This weekend Ian and I drove to LL Bean in Freeport, ME. After investigating home goods on the second floor, we came across a canoe—Bean’s is peppered with them—filled with clearance and seasonal items. In this Old Towne red a pile of iridescent spring time frogs. Each had its mouth zipped shut. Not heeding the lesson learned by the cat, curiosity got the better of us and we unceremoniously unzipped one of the frogs thereby revealing a string of insects, which, we are to believe, the frog had caught sometime before being zipped. Their colors were fantastic and shiny. The cheerfulness in design presented a bold contrast to the morbidity that necessarily accompanies partially digested prey. It creeped me out a little bit, and I’d venture it creeped Ian out a little, too.
We stuffed the bugs back into the frog’s mouth, secured them with the zipper, and put the frog back in the canoe for someone else to discover. As we walked down the stairs over the trout pond, Ian mentioned that he had never seen such a disturbing toy. It was horrible, but not nearly as bad as what they had cooked up in the early nineties. “Oh, come on. Don’t you remember that stuffed animal dog with the litter inside, and you grabbed in the womb and pulled out the puppies?” I asked.
“No, I don’t think I do,” he responded. He face agreed, though, what a terrible toy indeed.
I continued in a slow, dry tone, “Surprise, surprise! Puppy Surprise: how many puppies are there inside? There could be three. Or four. Or five.”
At this he remembered. The consequence of the toy was startling. It wasn’t clear if the five-dog mothers were the most desired. Many dogs from the larger litters died. And so to receive a mother with five dogs in her litter was often the same as one with only three or four in practice. These dogs then required a burial for one or more puppies. While it teaches the child a perhaps valuable lesson in mortality without the grave circumstances surrounding, say, the death of an aunt or a playmate from down the street, it is nonetheless a delicate and difficult cross to bear. Most of the kids did not know just how real the toy makers had made Puppy Surprise. My sister was lucky enough to get a four-puppy dog. They were all very small. Smaller than the puppies in the three-dog versions which had more room to grow and didn’t have to compete so strongly for nutrients. One of hers was born with a broken leg. It’s not clear if it were broken during the violent birth process, and if my sister were just a little to excited to reach in and tear the babies out, or if the leg broke during transport from the factory to the store. A clumsy attendant could have easily dropped the box, causing long-lasting reprocussions. It wasn’t his Puppy Surprise, so I guess he didn’t have to take that much care.
Another less awful though still disturbing toy from about the same time were the Pillow People. The new-age security blanket, these Pillow People were rectangular creatures with exaggerated faces. My sister had a Little Miss Muffet-type. It didn’t bother me because it wasn’t in my room. Mine, however, was terrifying. He was a blue, sleepy Sand Man. He wore a red and white striped night cap and carried a small pouch of sleepy sand. I wanted to do anything but sleep with him around. He was in constant yawn. His eyes were large ovals which were permanently drowsy. Yet his stare was penetrating, aware, and deep. His gaze followed me both in day and in night regardless of my position in the room. I remember turning him toward the wall before I turning the covers over my head for protection as I slept. It’s hard to know if my slight paranoia was caused by or merely identified because of my dozing Pillow Person. My Lincoln logs never caused me this much trouble.