What happened to Curlie, my "transitional object" from childhood--and my objection
|Part I: Transitional Object
My best friend when I was a little girl was Curlie. He’d lost one eye along the way and had one ear ripped off while serving as the object of a tug of war between my brother and me. Did I mention that Curlie is a dog—a stuffed dog?
In the aftermath of the tug of war, Mom threw Curlie away, in spite of my dramatic caterwauling. “Grandma” Fulton, the kindly woman who lived upstairs, rescued Curlie, saving him from the ravenous jaws of the trash man’s truck.
Grandma cropped Curlie’s remaining ear and adorned him with a new pair of perky ears. Then she brushed Curlie’s fur and tied a ribbon around his neck—and returned him to me. I was thrilled!
At some point in my growing up years, I lost interest in Curlie, but could never get rid of him. Like the Velveteen Rabbit, he still had life and purpose in him.
I grew up in a “cat family” and we always had at least one feline under foot. One day however, my brother and I “found” a dog wandering aimlessly and Mom let us bring her inside for the night. We named her Tomato, because her fur was red. The next day, Tomato moved on and I mourned her as if I’d known her all my life.
A year after I got married, my husband Rex gave me a puppy for my birthday. We were elated to learn that Cleo’s Pet Store had a litter of cockapoo-pomeranian mix puppies. However, only two puppies remained and one was already spoken for. The family was coming to claim the puppy that very morning.
Rex and I rushed into town and were relieved to discover that we had arrived before the family. We figured that meant we would get first pick, but the young clerk informed us otherwise. The family called him first and he felt obliged to give them pick of the (remaining) litter. With this understanding, we peered into the one and only cage containing dogs. Immediately one of the white balls of fluff lunged to the front of the cage, yapping for our attention. The remaining puppy sat shyly in the back of the cage, quivering.
“Could I hold that puppy?” I asked, pointing to the cowering one. I was snuggling her in my arms when a little boy burst through the door, with his family in tow. He took one look at me, pointed at the puppy in my arms, and declared, “I want THAT one!”
I will be forever grateful that the clerk knew instinctively which puppy would fit with which family, and I left the store with my very own live Curlie. We named her Muffin and loved and enjoyed her for fifteen years.
Every time my husband and I have moved I’ve come upon the box in the attic with all my childhood memorabilia and I can never resist opening the battered carton and reminiscing. There—among my Dr. Kildare and John Lennon album (with teen magazine pictures rubber-clued to manila-colored paper); thirty-three and a third RPM Beatles albums; a dried up prom corsage; and a rubber-banded stack of love letters from my fiancé—was Curlie. During his tenures in various attics, Curlie had yellowed substantially. In spite of his failing condition, my heart would swell with love as I picked him up and cuddled him endearingly.
By the time our children were old enough to appreciate having a dog, Muffin was already slowing down and was too old to be a playmate. After she died, the kids—then seven and ten—picked out their very own dog at the Humane Society. Trixie, our “Heinz 57,” was a great family dog.
At one point, I thought Curlie had been lost. He was no longer residing in the beat up carton, and he left no forwarding address. I mourned for Curlie almost as much as I did for Muffin when she died. Indeed, Curlie was a thick and thin, true blue friend: a witness to my child-life and my tumultuous teen years; a friend who I clutched in my arms during thunderstorms; a friend who held my tears during heart-breaking moments. I resisted assimilating the stone-cold reality that Curlie was gone.
As our Trixie began to show signs of aging, our teenage daughter Beth requested a “big” dog, someone who could jog with her. Thus, Panda, a lab-golden mix, came along side Trixie and picked up the slack.
During the cast-away-or-keep process in getting our son ready for college, I happened upon a dilapidated shoebox high atop a shelf in his closet, crunched in among Matt’s football scrapbooks, guitar music, and baseball card collections. Not recognizing the box, I hesitated opening it, lest I violate my son’s privacy. But my maternal curiosity won out.
When I opened the box I was dumb-founded. Curlie! I rejoiced, just as giddily as I did when Grandma Fulton handed my resurrected doggy to me. Curlie!
I released Curlie from his shoebox hide-a-way and placed him where I could see and touch him occasionally. Being forty-something years old, his curly coat had become threadbare, with his stitching barely holding the tufts of stuffing from popping out. After all Curlie had been through over the years, I was afraid to handle him for fear he’d fall apart.
Part II: Transitional Objection
One day, during her “terrible twos,” Panda presented me with a hum-dinger of an opportunity to practice the art of letting go. Walking up the stairs one evening, as my eyes became level with the second floor, I noticed that it looked as if it had snowed in our guest room. Immediately I knew what the snow was. Curlie. The “remains” of Curlie, that is.
“NO!” objected my little girl self, “NOOOOOOO!” The child part of me rent her garments and wept inconsolably.
Panda, had long since vacated the scene of her crime. I paused on the steps and pictured in my mind Panda, in all her glory, shaking Curlie to smithereens. I slowly backed down the stairs, abandoning the task I had been headed toward. Somberly I told my husband what had happened and ask him if he could please clean up Curlie. I hadn’t the heart to do it. Lovingly he did so, returning to report, “that’s the most thorough job I’ve ever seen.”
I was furious with Panda. Even at 48 I wasn’t ready to let go of my treasured transitional object. Eventually I forgave her. She’s so sweet and lovable that it’s hard to stay mad at Panda for very long. The thought of the ecstasy she must have experienced while shaking Curlie with wild puppy abandon makes me smile. I can appreciate how much fun that must have been for her, and if Curlie had to go, I guess its good that his passing gave Panda, such deep satisfaction and entertainment.
That two-year-old puppy that demolished my Curlie is now thirteen and has developed a storm-related anxiety disorder. And to whom does she turn for comfort? Me. I suppose this means that I am now her transitional object as she enters her golden years. You’ll hear no objection from me.
“It’s okay, Panda-Pooh,” I whisper, as she quivers into my lap. You’ll be okay.”