I once had in mind a story about a stuffed elephant with mis-matched ears. Of course, unlike the famed flying elephant, mine would have trouble flying with unequal ears. That plus the surplus of other flying, talking and sword-wielding fakes led me to drop a theme with, I felt, some merit.  

But turns out maybe the origin of the concept has more value than an elephantine concoction ,no matter its nobility. So, where’d the idea come from? In a packing box the twelfth year, when we moved a lot of my life I spotted and reconnected with an earlier childhood toy.

Recall, do, how a child can form over-real attachments and sentiments for certain toys, which for them have living characteristics. There is that, but I think it more likely that spinning through three different (one rural, then urban followed by small town) seventh grades made the comforting companionship of a dear-close friend (stuffed or no) a personal and quite human need.  

Boy age 12, I didn’t noise about this attachment. Secreted between moves and hidden in my various rooms, the elephant joined me only in the private dark where “his” (a genderless he) presence gave comfort no word, lecture or assurance could supply. At the end of ever-moving the stuffed elephant remained. Not spoken of or acknowledged, I kept him out-of-sight during day, coming out to join me only in the dark, when tiptoeing bare feet brought him from hiding. I felt ashamed of my attachment to a “baby toy,” but was no less soothed having a bed companion the year of many moves.  

Looking back I can’t piece together those many months, ones made more daunting because the puberty’s barn door was open, off its hinges, blasted aside as if propelled by cosmic forces.  

Ah puberty, what a trip it is to traverse from child to adolescent to a maybe-wannabe adult form. Some, lingering behind, don’t wish to and therefore do not make the trek. Despite the existence of various petulant and well-fed babies, remaining at age six or 10 or whatever isn’t recognized by birthdates or growth.  

Prepared for it or not, maturation occurs. It’s currently possible to view puberty as a disease needing treatment (mostly, it seems, to erase homoeroticism), but I suspect doing so misses the point behind being alive, a package experience with unanticipated challenges and joys.  

Transformation is easy only for cartoon creations. Flesh and blood takes a different route. But, enough the trials of puberty falling over one’s own feet. I muddled through as unaware of how, of when my mismatched aid entered or how in correct time the elephant was replaced by sci-fi to occupy a befuddled boy with far way thoughts of outer space and alien Aliens.  

Quickly now, some Brits, like Aldiss and Ballard, not Heinlein, maybe Asimov with a for-sure for Bradbury. Sci-fi was escape, simple-pure as shirt cuffs marched upward on the forearm. Until no longer a boy-child or gangly teen you’re somewhere taking on tasks beyond your size. I did it. Most everyone can, because neither a misshapen stuffed elephant, sci-fi nor I had any power beyond the ordinary, which was enough.  

Later in life when making a mess of larger challenges I came across the elephant friend and asked mother where it came from. She looked at the faded creature and gave a name, Mrs. So-and-what, not from the family, a name I’d never heard. And yet, here’s pause for the bleak-minded predictors, a person unknown to me had given just the right thing to be used at an unexpected time for lonely purposes. Life leads to death, but I’d live it no other way.  

I can’t, however, look back at a mis-matched era without recognizing the role of pets to amuse. We had two cats mother constantly accused me of tormenting. I saw differently. A dull life snoozing in a patch of sun-lit floor needed enlivening. I was the boy for that task, one I saw as beneficial to feline welfare.   Deprived of the wild, the poor kitties needed me to bring excitement their way. At times I may have gone a bit far, as evidenced by cats skedaddling opposite my way. Given time I’d win them back, lulling them good and proper all ready for the next torment. There was something (akin to boy-foolishness having to be among the first springtime loons to jump bare-ball naked into Colby Lake) about the easy placidity of cats that incited (amounting to a dare) me to rouse their sleepy slumber.  

A squirt gun was a profoundly successful cat mover, as were couch pillows sent as bombs upon the sleeping. It could take weeks to acclimate the cats to the presence of the vacuum cleaner in the upper hall. Aware of their mortal enemy, the cats would skirt quickly by until familiarity bred laxity; perfect time for my remote trigger to be used.  

Cat flight is possible; three feet in the air and traveling sideways, fur ball aviators launched via heaven for parts below. Better yet (a delicious side treat) neither kitty connected me with the vacuum bursting to life. That’s the sort of enemy intelligence a fresh-faced teen will play for mileage. The usual stuff of things on strings, bags, boxes and under-rug surprises were 20 for a dime in cat play world. Those many hours of ordinary were all part of seeing how a kitty reacted to 20 feet of unexpected freefall (eyes large and frantic as the bottom falls).  

I differentiate between cat owner and feline lover, vastly different categories. Years back some north shore ladies presented me with a “good mouser.” Knowing better than refuse, I hoped for the best and took kitty home.

  Soon after I was visited by cat lovers purring with joy that I had a cat and wishing to know pretty kitty’s name.  

I answered, “S H.”

“OHH,” they burbled, “S-H, cute! What’s it mean?”

“Shithead,” I explained, getting the lovers’ loud protesting outcry. I stood unfazed by criticism easily defeated saying, “Go to the refrigerator, open the door and call ‘Here Shithead.’ See who shows up.”