OK, so there is a picture of me around 1 year old. I look like a pretty happy kid. Gotta love the slip cover on that couch! So what happened? I see, peeking out at the upper left, my beloved Raggedy Andy doll. Of course I don’t remember Andy from this young, but I do remember that up until I was close to five yrs. old, that doll and I were inseparable. I literally could not go anywhere without him. I am sure, by that time, my mother was sick and tired of looking for Andy before we could go anywhere or do anything.
I am thinking in the early summer of either 1959 or 1960, right before I turned 4 or 5, Raggedy Andy disappeared. I vaguely remember doggedly searching high and low for him. I am sure that I enlisted Mom and my two sisters in the effort. It was an “Amber Alert” for Raggedy Andy. Knowing how I am now days, I am guessing that I would not give up the search. I can hear my mom saying “I just can’t imagine what happened to Andy.” And, “Don’t worry honey, he’ll turn up.” I may have had a troubled night, that first night he disappeared, forced to try to sleep without him. I probably had one of my classic nightmare episodes where I ended up half trapped under the mattress after slipping over the edge of the bed inside the tightly tucked top-sheet and blankets.
I feel as though it was the morning of the second day of the search, my two sisters cleverly lured me over to the “burn barrel.” For you younger folks, that was a steel 55 gallon drum back at the alley, one for each house(except for the rich folks who had incinerators in their basement), where people burned their daily household garbage. The garbage trucks in those days collected the ashes once a week. As I recall, most people burned their trash in the evening, after supper. I even remember when I was older one of my chores was burning the trash. You could look up and down the alley and see other boys fooling around by their respective trash barrels, poking at them with sticks, and waiting for the aerosol cans to explode. It was great entertainment for naturally pyromaniacal boys.
Anyhow, on this particular morning, having been lured to the burn barrel by the sisters, I looked down into the barrel, and saw the charred remains of my Andy. I am sure I was too young to connect the dots as to what had happened. All I remember was my devastation and the fact that I was teased and ridiculed by my sisters and neighbor kids for balling about it. For me, at that age, it was equivalent to a death. And I grieved, for days. I did not get a new Andy, nor did I want one. My Andy was irreplaceable.
This was the “Dr. Spock” era. Every mother had a copy of the famous child-rearing book by Dr. Benjamin Spock. One of his things was that children should be broken from their infantile attachments at the earliest age possible, and most certainly before they began kindergarten. Baby blankets, dolls, etc. Children must be weaned from these objects. Period. No Exceptions. Trauma be damned – this mission must be accomplished. It was one of the first episodes of sadness that I can remember.
I suspect that this was right before I turned five later in June, and it gave me the whole summer to get over losing Andy, before starting school in the fall. Funny, how in a matter of just one generation, this idea about child-rearing was turned completely on its head. My daughter kept her beloved baby blanket all the way into adulthood. It was washed and re-sewed countless times, getting gradually smaller and smaller. To this day, she has a small piece left, about the size of a paperback book. I think she has it framed and hanging somewhere in her abode. She seems perfectly normal to me.
I am not retelling this story because I think I was permanently damaged by it. It just happens to be one of my earliest solid memories. It might also be my first memory of sadness or a sense of loss. So to some extent, it was a formative experience in my early life. I am not looking to lay blame or recriminate. I am just curious how early events, such as this one, shape the person later in life. But who knows, perhaps this kind of consumer psychology could help to explain why the baby-boom generation is a such a mess?