In 1985 Bill Waterson brought Calvin and Hobbes to the masses. It was received with a reception that echoes to this day. If you are one of the few who’ve never read these comics, well, let me tell you, you are missing out on some amazing commentary on life, growing up, politics, loss of innocence and sheer unadulterated childhood joy and wonderment. The first time I read one of the strips I was immediately in love and understood exactly where he was coming from, but for some reason I couldn’t understand why. I didn’t understand why those strips spoke to me on a level I of childhood I seemed to have lost. No, not lost, more like I locked away in some deep recess of my mind.
Lost memories of my youth, that is, lost to me. Others however, seem to have retained memories of my youth and have no compunction of regaling others of the shenanigans of my younger days. Stories I’ve heard a hundred times in the past but have always shrugged off like cold rain on a wet coat as I take it off. The wet, reviving memories one easily forgets. That is me. I try to not dwell too much on my youth. Some tell me it was filled with joy and mischief. I don’t remember those years being like that. I remember them quite the opposite. Days and nights filled with strife, discomfort, loneliness and awkwardness. Yeah, that’s how I see my youth. I was not happy. So much so that when speaking with family members about our past, their recollections never seemed to make a connection to my own skewed version of my personal history.
In those rare situations, when I was amongst my siblings and stories were being told I usually just tuned them out. Not out of disrespect, it was more of a defense mechanism, to maintain my own memories and attitudes I’d become comfortable with telling myself. Not lies mind you, like the lies we tell ourselves daily, but more out of survival. Survival of who I knew I was, knew where I was going and knew for a fact what had happened in my life and when.
Then, this week, a connection was made by one of the most amazing people in my life. A connection to my past that I had lost decades ago. It was an amazing moment, well, more of a bridge to the scared and lonely kid inside all of us. A long forgotten bridge by me but one of great importance.
To tell you the truth, right now, I really don’t even know where to start or how to put into words what happened. Yet, more than that, how do I share what happened? How can one put into words one of the most amazing gifts one can receive as one slams head first into middle age and can’t even remember most of the details of daily life as a child or preteen? It escapes my mind, it’s as if I’m trying to grab ahold of fog on a cool summer night. The ether of memories are slippery and gaseous. One is unable to actually wrangle to the ground those memories open their hands and stare into the face of the innocence of childhood they once faced.
I guess, I need to start at what I remember. Which is to say, I was troubled. I was angry. I was willing and able to do anything to try and alleviate the strife in my life.
That’s when Freddy showed up. Yes, Freddy. He was sewn by my mother and he was the exact replication of the guy in the cartoon “The Flintstones”. However; my Freddy had a different voice, a different attitude towards life and he was also the most loyal and confident friend I’ve ever had.
However; my mother also made a Wilma who she gave to one of my sisters. That sister seemed to think it was okay to try and boss me and my new best friend around whenever and wherever we were. I didn’t like that and definitely Freddy did not like it as well. Wilma suffered an excruciating demise which I won’t go into here. That is a story for another time. A time when I’m not feeling so… loved? Appreciated? Needed? I don’t know.
I don’t remember the first day I got Freddy, nor do I remember many of the days that passed uneventfully. I do however remember many of the adventures we had together. Swimming pools became unnavigable waters with ninety foot swells and storms raging on the horizon. Frogs, toads and lizards became ancient dinosaurs trying to rend the flesh from our bones. Model airplanes became interstellar star ships that could traverse the endless miles of empty space while being chased by space pirates, smugglers and space police.
When I was blamed for a mischievous act, I could always point to Freddy and say “Freddy did it. Not me.” And Freddy readily threw himself on the sword of justice. On the occasions where no one believed me and I was punished, Freddy was there to offer me solace and comfort. He didn’t judge, didn’t ask for permission, didn’t need apologies, no, he was a true friend who had large shoulders for me to cry on, a grin that shared my laughter and had more ideas in his cotton stuffed head than I could ever come up with on my own.
When I was alone in my room, grounded, and working on one of my many puzzles or models, he was there to help my shaking hand guide the right piece into the right place. When I discovered playboy and penthouse magazine, he was there to help talk me through my discomfort and confusion.
When my family went on camping trips and I felt out of place and alone, he would accompany me to the playground where we would slide down the endless miles of slides. Or direct me to the rivers where we could hunt for frogs, tadpoles and snakes.
We did everything together. We bathed, we laughed, we cried, we even learned about life and all its intrinsically elaborate subtleties together. He was the voice of reason in my head. He was my Jimminy Cricket, albeit, a rated “R” Jimminy Cricket.
I don’t know when he left me or how. I just know that one day I came home from school and went to look for him and he was gone. I was devastated. I hated life. How could I not? My best friend disappeared without a clue as to where he went. I moved on. I made real life friends. Friends like Fish, Finn and Brian. Later on, after we moved out of Green Bay, I made other friends and as my life traversed from youth to adolescence, I forgot my long lost friend and this is the real tragedy of the story.
How can one forget the one person who helped you through all your questions and discomfort? Somehow I managed to. This is not necessarily a proud moment in my life.
But forgotten he was.
That is, to me, not my family.
My family remembers. They remember the candy story, they remember the beheadings, they remember the small child running down the street with a small Fred Flintsone shaped pillow under his arms and they remember all the good and bad deeds done in his name.
This year, my oldest sister, the one who always has been able to see the best in me gave me for my birthday a new Freddie. One she scoured the web, fabric stores, flea markets and second hand stores for years. She was unable to find the original fabric appliqué, instead she found the new, plush and articulated Freddie. A Freddie who is just as real to me in my middle age as he was when I was eight years old.
The funny thing is, at the table when I’m opening my presents in celebration of my birthday I could easily tell what was inside each gently wrapped package. Yet, when I was handed the blue, iridescent bag, I didn’t have a clue what was inside. But when I pulled the first layer of tissue paper and placed my hand inside the bag and I felt the soft felt buried deep inside of the paper a long lost voice in my head said “Hello Buddy!” And out of my mouth I immediately said “Freddie!”
A flood, no a deluge of memories filled my mind and to tell you the truth as I write this, I am a bit chocked up. How could I not be? The closest and most intimate friend of my life had been returned to me.
In my head, we held a long conversation within seconds. In reality, I was surrounded by people in my life who have a vested interest in my life and what I’m doing.
I pulled to my chest my long lost friend and held a conversation which I won’t reveal here. Needless to say, my youth was restored to me, my long lost friend was returned and I became a more whole and better person with the influence of my long lost friend.
In the end, my offspring spent the night learning and realizing how important my youth was, she kept him as a protector against evil in the night. Much like I used to, and she made sure he didn’t allow the evils of the world fall into the spectrum of her living, breathing and living.
I couldn’t be happier. I slept last night with my old pal and I’m pleased that my past has finally caught up with my future. I’m sure one day, in the not so distant future all of our children will have an icon that will escort them into the future. After all, we all need an impartial witness to our lives. A party who will accept us for who we are and what we will become.
In the meantime, Freddy will be riding shotgun on my motorcycle and we will have endless conversations about our adventures about our separation.
Have a great week and thank you Vera Lynn.