A story about a little boy and his stuffed rabbit.
|Fizzy Winker the Stuffed Rabbit
It was every bit of 48 year ago, but I remember the day like it was yesterday.
I had apparently been a good boy for a while and had earned a trip to the toy store. Either that, or I had whined my way into the trip. I’m going with the “good boy” theory – because it sounds better, and because my parents didn’t take too well to whining anyway.
The neighborhood toy store bore no resemblance to today’s superstores. It was a small storefront in a rundown little plaza. The store itself was old and musty smelling. The well-trodden wooden plank floor had felt the footfalls of countless little boys and girls over the years that the old storekeeper had been there. The cash register sat in the darkest corner of the store waiting for the owner to close a sale and pull the lever that rang a bell and opened the cash drawer.
There were no flashing lights to identify the “popular” toys. There weren’t any electronic toys or computer games – neither of which had been invented yet, but to a four-year old boy, it was as close to heaven as he could get. It was filled from floor to ceiling with every toy imaginable – from board games to train sets and TonkaTM trucks and cars. There was a small section of stuffed animals behind the counter.
My Mom had told me that I could have anything I wanted. I’m sure that there was a dollar limit, but I didn’t know what it was. The storeowner – these were the days when the owners worked every hour the store was open, showed me a lot of toys, carefully steering me toward his more expensive stock.
There was a lot of neat stuff, but nothing that really caught my eye. Remember too, that these were the days before big-money-marketing-machines carefully molded children into consumers who buy whatever the toy-of-the-day happens to be. There were no games or toys that were supported by Saturday morning TV of Ninja Turtle movies. Oh, there might have been a Roy Rogers 6-Shooter, but that was about it, and I already had one of those.
So, the three of us browsed for a while, always returning to the owner’s best (most expensive) stock. Mom never batted an eye, so I suspect I could have had almost anything in the store. On one of the laps around the store, a little stuffed rabbit had caught my eye. It was hidden away on an upper shelf, but I had seen it peaking out from another little stuffed animal.
I asked the shopkeeper if I could see the little rabbit. He discouraged that choice, tactfully reminding me that my Mom had said I could have “anything in the store”, but after I pestered him a little, he grudgingly took it from the shelf for me to examine.
The little rabbit wasn’t the biggest or best of his stuffed toy stock. In fact he was a little dusty from the time he had spent on the shelf. It was clear that he needed a new home, and I was going to give it to him. It was love at first sight and that little rabbit was going home with me.
After a little more “salesmanship” from the owner, he realized he was fighting a losing battle and sold us one of the least expensive items in his store. The little stuffed rabbit was mine!
On the ride home my Mom asked me what I was going to name my new stuffed animal. Without missing a beat, I told her “Fizzy Winker”.
Fizzy Winker is a rabbit, but he could have been almost any other animal as well. He has a small, cylindrical shaped body, long floppy ears and a little cotton ball of a tail. But, if his ears and tail were different, he could have been a puppy or a kitten just as easily. It really wouldn’t have mattered what he was because he came with a little smile sewn onto his face that could brighten the rainiest days in a child’s life.
We quickly became fast friends. Like Linus and his security blanket from the Peanuts© comic strip, I took him everywhere with me. Even now, when I see a small child carrying a stuffed animal, it reminds me of how good Fizzy Winker made me feel when I carried him into a store or a restaurant.
Not long after Fizzy moved in with us, my parents had a big announcement. The family was going on a vacation. Not just a little vacation, we were going to Hawaii. What had been a United States territory had just become the 50th State, and we were going to be some of the first people to visit the “new” state.
Remember, this was 1959. Commercial air travel wasn’t new, but it wasn’t exactly commonplace either. Boeing had just sold its first 707s to Pan Am, and McDonald Douglas was not far behind marketing the DC-8, but most passenger air travel was still on propeller driven airplanes. This will be important later.
So, off we went. Mom, Dad, Grandma, Fizzy Winker, and me, on the vacation of a lifetime! The first leg of the journey took us from Cleveland to Las Vegas.
Las Vegas of 1959 bore little resemblance to the mega-resort gambling Mecca that it has become today. Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel was there on what would become today’s Strip, and fortunes were already being won and (mostly) lost, but the man-made volcanoes and sinking pirate ships were still decades away.
For us, it was just a jumping off point for the rest of the vacation. The next stop would be Hoover Dam. I didn’t understand the excitement about seeing some old dam named after a president, until we got there. The sheer magnitude of the construction was awe-inspiring – even for a five year old. I can still remember looking down from the walkway onto the spillway far below with Fizzy clutched tightly in my hands (and me clutched tightly in my Dad’s hands). You could feel the hum from the mammoth generators 30 stories below.
From there we headed through Death Valley on our way to Los Angeles in a rented Ford convertible. You might think that Death Valley is really hot, and it is during the day, but all I remember of the ride was how cold it got at night on the drive to L.A. Fizzy and I shivered together in the backseat while the desert slowly rolled away under the wheels of the rental car.
Our stop in Los Angeles was highlighted by trips to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm.
Disneyland was still new, having opened in 1955. It was a shadow of the super-amusement park that it has become today, but in 1959, it already had rivers, waterfalls, and mountains. There were flying elephants and giant teacups; a fairy-tale castle, moon rockets, and a scenic railway. It really was a magic kingdom. Fizzy Winker and I laughed together through all the rides, exhibits, train robberies and shootouts.
This is the stuff a kid’s dreams are made of – real life cowboy shootouts and Mickey Mouse – live and in person.
Little did I know, the most exciting ride was yet to come. The 2500-mile flight from Los Angeles to Honolulu has become routine over the last forty years, but in 1959 it meant hours of listening to 4 propeller engines droning. There isn’t much to see between L.A. and Hawaii, except for the Pacific Ocean.
About half way there, one of the four engines suddenly stopped working, causing the plane to dive sharply to the left, causing it to lose quite a bit of altitude before it finally leveled off. As you can probably guess, this had a profound impact on most of the passengers.
There was quite a bit of crying and carrying on. Not long after the plane had leveled off, the pilot came back into the cabin to assure us that the plane could continue safely with the three remaining engines and that everything would be all right. When he asked if we had any questions, I asked one.
I wanted to know if “He would do it again.”
That seemed to break the tension a little. Some of the crying was replaced by nervous laughter, and fortunately, the rest of the flight was smooth and uneventful.
Hawaii is amazing. If you’ve been there, you know what I mean. If you haven’t, the words you read and the pictures you see don’t do it justice. Even as a little boy, I knew that this was one of the very special places on earth.
Of course, even though I would have been content to stay on the beach with my Grandmother, my Mom and Dad wanted to do some tourist stuff. One warm, sunny day, we took a bus tour around Honolulu, seeing all the famous sites. We saw as much as anyone could see on an eight-hour bus tour. We had been on and off the bus a lot and everyone was very tired.
When we finally got back to the hotel room, I realized that Fizzy was gone!
I must have left him on the bus!
What had been a beautiful day of sightseeing – even for a four-year old, had turned sour. 5000 miles from home, my little buddy was lost and alone, and I was heartbroken. He could be anywhere from Diamondhead to Waikiki, and I knew he was gone forever.
Knowing how I felt, my Dad jumped into action. He was a police officer, and he had a plan to find Fizzy.
He called 911.
Well, 911 hadn’t been invented yet, but he did call the Honolulu Police Department and told them what had happened. They immediately put out a “Fizzy Alert”, looking for the bus that we had been on. He even contacted a radio station that broadcast the alert on the air. Hours went by, but there was no word about my wayward stuffed rabbit. It didn’t look good for Fizzy.
My parents tried to convince me that he would turn up, but I had my doubts. We went down to the dining room for dinner, but without Fizzy Winker, I didn’t have much of an appetite.
Sometime near the end of dinner, two really big Honolulu Policemen came into the dining room. They talked to the host, and walked directly to our table. With a little theatrical fanfare, they talked quietly to my Dad before taking my little stuffed buddy out of bag and handing him to my Mom.
Fizzy was back! As it turned out, the police had located the bus that we had been on, and sure enough, Fizzy was there, happily bouncing along through the streets of Honolulu.
All these years later, Fizzy Winker is still with me. In fact, while I don’t sleep with him any more, he does live on the headboard of our bed, and he will forever, thanks to my Dad’s quick thinking and the Honolulu Police Department’s willingness to help a little boy find his stuffed rabbit.