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The Return of Penny the Poodle; life is better

My wife and I recently moved to a new house. It’s got a barn, a little acreage, and room for a couple of horses. It’s a wonderful place and I am slowly learning how to work a tractor and mend fences. But, first we had to move, and we had been in the old house for 22 years. It’s amazing how much “stuff” a family can manage to pack into one modest-sized house. And I am shocked to admit, that when we were packing up, there were even some boxes left over from our move from Reston, over two decades ago, that hadn’t even been opened. They were, in a sense, time capsules. But, I am also a little embarrassed that they had just taken up space for so long, and worst of all that we

clearly hadn’t even needed or seemingly cared about what was in them. I suppose that says a little about human nature. Most of us hate to throw anything away even if we’re not sure what it is.

There wasn’t time, when we were moving for me to sort through them, so without much fanfare these dusty old boxes were packed up and moved to the new place where finally, after so long, I opened them, to see what we had packed away back in 1989. There were plaques from work, some Navy uniform items, pictures I was delighted to find, some very old china, and tucked in the bottom corner of one box was something I had lost a long time ago and was convinced would never see again. It was one of my prized possessions from childhood. It was a toy called Penny the Poodle. It was actually a piggy bank in the shape of a poodle and as I remember my mother got it when she opened an account, in 1963, with the Fairfax National Bank in Annandale. It’s an unusually cute little figure and as I proved, it was amazingly durable. For years, I carried Penny with me everywhere. She survived countless baths, a little rough treatment, and once, in a trying moment, was lost in the yard. My father scoured the back yard with his flashlight until he found it. Even when I got older, she was a fixture on my desk. I wasn’t about to put her away, or even retire her, and if anyone made fun of me for having a kid’s toy in my room, they did so at their own risk.

Alas though, Penny and I accidentally got separated during our last move. I looked, and kept my eyes open for this wonderful toy, for the longest time, but after awhile I had to assume, that quite by accident, she was gone. Like most of us, I have lost prized possessions before. It’s just life, but this one hurt more than most. So, my surprise, delight and near speechlessness at seeing Penny again, even as a 53-year old, grown up, is hard to describe. A small bit of my past, something I thought was gone, was back.

Penny, a little cleaned up - 409 Spray does wonders - with her original paint still in tact, is on a table in my office at home. She is well cared for now. No rough childhood treatment and no being moved here and there or being packed away. I do my work, write reports, talk on the phone, and pay bills, all under Penny’s watchful eye. For a few minutes, if I get a little tired of the computer screen, I look at this wonderful, long ago toy, and feel delighted that a tiny bit of my childhood I cared for so much survived. At times, as middle age creeps in a bit, and this or that joint or muscle hurts, a look at Penny seems to make the pain go away. I am a little boy again and the world is my oyster.
Some people, understandably, might consider this a little silly. After all, being an adult isn’t about toys or dog shaped piggy banks from nearly fifty years ago. Being an adult is a serious business. There are bills to pay, cars that break down, bosses to deal with, and children, that no matter how old they get, always seem to need your help. And, beyond that, there are all sorts of other cares and worries that on occasion seem to overwhelm us. Alas, in all of that rush of activity and worry there seems little room for memories of the simple pleasures of long ago. And that, truly, is sad.
That’s why I think there are times when we overdo this business of being adults. After all, childhood had its moments, and they shouldn’t be entirely left behind. My grandfather, an extremely serious man whose life had never been easy, kept a mechanical bear that his mother had given him for his birthday when he was nine. That would have been 1905. When I was a little boy, and he was in his late seventies, I was allowed to play with it. However, it was always clear that the bear was his toy and not mine. And, my grandfather was not alone. Two remarkable World War Two figures also chose to keep a bit of their childhood with them in difficult times. Winston Churchill is reported to have had a stuffed cat he kept close by during the Battle of Britain. It was amongst his most cherished possessions. And General Dwight Eisenhower, later President of the United States, had a knitted “teddy bear cover” for his hot water bottle that went to war with him when he took over the Command of the Allied Forces in Europe. 

I, however, am undertaking no such great tasks as defending the free world or defeating the Nazis. And my life has been considerably easier than that of my grandfather. But if these men, all of whom I admire greatly, amongst the many serious tasks of their adult lives could be just a little childish; taking solace from a stuff animal or a mechanical bear, then I feel a certain pleasure in knowing that I am at least in good company. But most of all, I am thankful, that my long ago friend, after so many years, came home.

You may reach Daivd Kerr at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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