The Sassy Sandpiper: The Plush Menagerie
The Sassy Sandpiper ponders the comfort offered by stuffed animals.
By M.R. Wilson, Columnist, Tampa Bay Reporter
Long before American businessman H. Ty Warner created Beanie Babies™ in 1986, toy stuffed animals comforted children worldwide. The notion is believed to have originated in ancient Egypt. Stuffed animals familiar to us today are traced to late 19th Century Germany. When President Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt was photographed with a cuddly bear, the manufacturer asked to use his name in 1902.
My first faux-furred companion was a tiger, given as a Christmas present when I was 4 or 5 years old. I don’t recall naming it or whether I considered it a boy or girl tiger. It was large, as stuffed animals go, sprawling halfway across the bed in my little attic room. “Tiger” made the journey to Florida when the family moved from Nebraska in 1956. Sadly, we parted company at some point between then and now.
It’s been a veritable Carnival of the Animals creating my Plush Menagerie. The oldest members are Little Everest and Paws, a black and a buff bear, respectively. Froggie and Little Black Duck sat in my office at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Mom got me a white flamingo I begged shamelessly for during the writing of A Flamingo Named Flannigan. After the book was published, Dad gifted me with a pink flamingo I called “Flambeau.” Babies joined the flock over the years.
Each member of the Plush Menagerie has a story. Assembling them for a group photograph tugged on memories happy and sad. Fiona is a ragged, floppy-eared rabbit given to me during cancer recovery in 1993. I slept with her cuddled next to “the hurt place” for years. I have Granny’s buffalo, Rufus. A pink Babe piglet. A manatee from the USF-St. Petersburg bookstore. A cluster of songbirds. Little animals from conservation groups: a wolf, ring-tailed lemur, zebra, orca. A white Burdine’s bear. Mythical creatures. Dinosaurs. Most were gifts of love. Many I’ve purchased myself.
More recently, the Beanie Boos with their huge, glittering eyes captured my foolish heart. I couldn’t resist a mama kangaroo with joey-in-pouch, a blue-eyed billy goat (“Look at his beard!”). A wise little fox, an ornery-looking giraffe. Oh honestly! Their expressions and craftsmanship get to me every time. You’d think someone who cares for a horde of cats wouldn’t need the plush variety of any critter.
A few months ago I searched for an unusual soft creation: a sloth with long silky arms for wrapping around a relative recovering from open heart surgery, since I couldn’t give her a hug in person. She named hers “Cinnamon.” It was so darned cute, I had to get my own sloth, “Clove.”
Stuffed animals aren’t just for kids anymore. Maybe they never were. Especially these days, who doesn’t need the calm, quiet company, the unconditional love of one’s very own Plush Menagerie?
PHOTO OF THE PLUSH MENAGERIE COURTESY OF M.R. WILSON.
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