By Joe Hobby
I was going through some things in my closet when he surprised me. There, smack dab in the middle of a Nike shoebox he lay. Like me, he has a few miles on him. That’s no surprise; we grew up together. Most of his face is worn. His ears are frazzled. The stripes on his body are just about gone; I loved those off of him years ago. Most kids had a Teddy bear. Not me. I had a tiger. Tony the Tiger.
Tony was a much a part of my early childhood as Gerber baby food. He went everywhere with me. Tony slept with me, ate meals with me, even accompanied Mom and me when we picked up Dad from work. (Yep, we only had one car).
Tony was involved with my entire family. I fondly remember my older sister playing games with me that involved Tony and my other beloved stuffed animal, Susie the cat. All was well in my young world.
Then I got older. Tony was still a part of my life, but he wasn’t the center of my universe any more. Television, climbing trees, playing army, and reading comic books began to crowd Tony Time out. Finally, one day my mom cut the ultimate umbilical cord; she told me it was time for me to stop sleeping with Tony.
It was terrible, but inevitable. I had officially outgrown Tony.
Soon, Tony and Susie were unceremoniously placed on a shelf in my closet. That was certainly not the fate my one-time besties deserved. It’s sad, really. All of those childhood memories just sitting up there as the years went by.
I’m still surprised that Tony and Susie made it through all of my moves. They always managed to show up, regardless of the apartment or home I was in at the time. That’s because no one would ever think of sending them to a thrift store, or God forbid, the trash.
When I finally had children, there was no chance to share my old stuffed animals with them. Each one of my boys had a bear they were attached to. Brownie, Brown Bear, and Teddy became their Tony. Besides, who would want an old beat-up tiger? (There is an Auburn joke in there, but I’ll take the high road).
Finally, years passed, and our family was blessed with our first grandchild, Rilynne. A little girl at last! By the time she was two years old, we were tighter than yoga pants on a Sumo wrestler.
Rilynne made frequent stops at our house. It seemed like every time she came over, she wanted to play in my closet. Since it was small and cozy, it became her favorite spot. We would always dump out a large jar of my spare change on the floor and pretend it was a treasure chest we just discovered.
One day when we were in the closet playing, Rilynne glanced up, and saw an old, stuffed animal that seemed to be peeking down at her.
“What’s that, Granddaddy?”, she asked.
I stood up and picked him off the shelf.
“This,” I said proudly, “is Tony. When I was a little boy, he was my Bear Bear.”
Bear Bear is Rilynne’s indispensable stuffed animal. So, she completely understood Tony’s importance to me.
“Can I see him?”
She cuddled Tony to her face.
“Can I have him?”, she asked.
I expected that question. Rilynne is a stuffed animal junkie. She has about 75,000 of them in her bedroom. I’ve been there – Toys R Us would be envious. I couldn’t in good faith just give away Tony to be a part of a collection. What to do?
Amazingly, I came up with a compromise that might work.
“I’ll tell you what, honey. Every time you come over you can have Tony, but we have to put him back in the closet when you leave. And when you get older, I’ll give you Tony and Susie to have all the time. How about that?
That was way too easy. And it was self-serving. What I didn’t tell her was that I wanted her to have my stuffed animals so years from now she would think of me after I’m gone.
Now when Rilynne comes to our house, she heads straight to my closet and picks Tony off the shelf. Until she goes home, he almost holds equal status with Bear Bear.
But alas, that window is closing. Rilynne is already developing other interests that will replace her stuffed animals. Once again, Tony’s time will be done. All too soon, he and Susie will return to the closet, now stuffed with even more memories. Just the thought of it fills me with melancholy. Then, I remember that I have two other granddaughters, one that’s 3 years old, and a another who’s 24 months.
Two-Time Tony’s not done yet.