Thursday, January 20, 2011

Saving Private Raggedy Andy

"Okay, runts, get off the field. We got a buncha guys comin' to play ball," said Dave Brooks, a 16 year-old baseball star at the local high school. A big kid.

"Why don't you make us?" threatened Mike the Whip. Mike was fearless. Unfortunately, he was also ten.

"Yeah, okay, right." said Dave. He was pretty cool, and more tolerant of little kids than most of his peers. He had seven younger brothers and sisters, so that helped. "You can watch if you want, but it's gonna be mostly guys from the high school team. You'd just strike out anyway, right?"

"That sucks," said Robbie. "We were here first."

"I'll pitch to you guys tomorrow, how 'bout that?" offered Dave.

"I guess," I said.

Robbie, Mike the Whip and I headed off the field. Sweaty, pissed off, and now bored.

"Hey, let's go check out the factory," said Robbie.

Back in the 50's, the Knickerbocker Toy Factory was the center of the doll-and-stuffed-animal universe. Located in my hometown, right behind the ball field, Knickerbocker was the birthplace of teddy bears, cuddly stuffed dogs, and of course, their trademark Raggedy Anns and Andys. So beloved were the dolls that kids in the neighborhood would periodically check the trash dumpsters behind the factory, hoping to adopt a “factory-second” reject with a crooked eye or a slightly torn belly. Knickerbocker would never send out a defective doll, of course, but Second Hand Andy could surely find a home somewhere.

Joy was joy, it didn't have to be fancy or expensive.

For twenty years, the Knickerbocker Toy Factory served as a modern-day North Pole, with its 200 or so employees functioning as hard-working elves, providing hand-stitched companions for children of that generation. To my parents, my aunts and uncles, Raggedy Ann and Andy were cultural icons.

But times changed.

Along came the 70's and with this new decade came the invasion of the video games. My generation ditched our dolls in favor of Atari systems, parked our Tonka Trucks and clicked on our spiffy hand-held Coleco football games.

The Knickerbocker factory closed down. The building remained, but the only inhabitants were the cloth-and-yarn ghosts of Christmases that never came. All that was left was an empty shell, abandoned and alone, left to gather dust.

Until that summer morning when Robbie, Mike the Whip and I declared war on it.

We snuck in through the delivery bay, and invaded the abandoned Knickerbocker warehouse. Illuminated only by indirect sunlight and smelling vaguely of mildew and wet cardboard, the room was a battleground, ours to conquer. We surveyed the terrain. Bare light bulbs in sockets on the ceiling. Boxes with the faded Knickerbocker logo, half full of dusty buttons and faded yarn. A stack of rotting wooden pallets. Broken cinder blocks piled in the corner.

We’d stumbled upon a makeshift ammunition bunker.

It was Mike the Whip who thought of it first.

"Ya dare me to take out one of the light bulbs with a cinder block?"

Of course we dared him.

Mike picked up a softball-sized hunk of rock, pulled the imaginary pin, and hurled the block-grenade upward, shattering a bulb and thunking down on the floor.

"Awright, I'm next," I said. I picked up a chunk. Reared back. Missed. Dammit.

"Hey, maybe if we stack some pallets and stand on 'em, it'll be easier," suggested Robbie.

"You guys are pussies. I threw mine from the ground."

"Just shut up and help us, Mike."

For the next ten minutes, it was "bombs away".

Pop! Light bulb.

Bam! Floor.

Flash Pop! Light bulb.

Ka-thunk! Floor.

When our arsenal started running low, I hopped down to retrieve the rocks for another round while Robbie and Mike continued their assault upon the light brigade.

As I walked toward the stones scattered in the "landing zone", I remember thinking, Ya know, this might be a little dangerous. I turned around, intending to yell, "Hey, you guys, stop for a minute! I'm getting more rocks!"

I made it to "Hey, you g -"

KA-DONK!

I was on the ground, head throbbing, my face, shirt, and the floor around me covered in blood.

"Shit, Robbie! You hit him!"

"I dint mean it! I dint even see him over there!"

Panicked by the bloody carnage, they each took an arm and stood me up, and headed toward my house. We got the attention of the high school guys on the baseball field.

"Holy crap, guys, hold up! That kid's bleeding to death!"

A couple of the teenagers came running over to help. Dave Brooks scooped me up and carried me to my house. In the distance, I saw my mom sitting on our front porch. I'd imagine her thoughts were something along the line of, "Poor idiot kid, cracked his head open."

As we got closer, and she saw that it was HER idiot kid, she flipped out.

"WHAT HAPPENED? WHAT WERE YOU GUYS DOING? OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD!"

"Calm down, ma'am, we got him. Why don't you go get a rag or something?" said Dave, as he set me down on the porch steps.

Mom, however, had already bolted into the house, and practically tore the screen door off when she returned with a wet towel. She was completely falling apart. Amazing how four years of nursing school seems to vanish when your kid is the patient. The cut was only a half-inch or so long, but it was deep. I kept the towel on my head as Mom flung me into the car and burned rubber, off to Somerset Hospital. Along the way, she debriefed me on the cause of my battle wound.

There's nothing quite like the look on a mother's face at that precise moment when she realizes she's raised a dipshit.

Mom hustled me into the emergency room, checked in, and we waited for my turn with the doctor. I noticed a girl, about five years old, who had obviously been crying. She was sitting in a wheelchair with her leg elevated and packed in ice. A broken leg, perhaps, or maybe a badly sprained ankle. She was being comforted by a well-traveled Raggedy Ann.

One of the last hand-me-down refugees from the Knickerbocker Toy Factory.

Still somewhat in a daze, and my vision blurry, I looked Raggedy Ann squarely in the buttonish eyes.

I swear, she winked at me.




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12 comments:

Linda Medrano said...

This is so wonderfully evocative of childhood. We've all "been there - done that" in one way or another. Such a solid, funny, and heartwarming post!

nipplelicious said...

Wonderful memories...reminds me of jumping off the lighthouse into shallow water, climbing the rock piles from the Morton Salt factory, and diving off Nelson Ledges..

Man we were morons.. and I sincerely pray every day my children never ever do half the shit we did..

Quirkyloon said...

Ha! "...when she realizes she raised a dipshit."

I can't tell how you how much that resonates with me (and my son?).

*snort*

Eva Gallant said...

Ah, the craziness of childhood; we had no fear. We thought we were indestructible! Good story!

J.J. in L.A. said...

"There's nothing quite like the look on a mother's face at that precise moment when she realizes she's raised a dipshit."

I saw this look on my mom's face more times than I can count. It's her fault, though, for having 5 sons.

Suldog said...

I got that "idiot" look from MY WIFE when I came home with a broken thumb from softball, about six years ago. When I went out to play ball again, a week later, with my thumb in a cast, I got an entirely upgraded look that, despite my best efforts, I have been unable to name as of yet.

Madge said...

Great story, we've all done our share of crazy shit. My fav... throwing rocks at bees nests, always got stung. Stupid!

Uncle Skip, said...

Oh, yeah... the look. Only mothers and wives have it, each one is unique, and, unfortunately, we can never quite get a picture of it.

Waltsense.com said...

Knuckles. Great story. Reminds me of the "pump Houe", which was an old factory along the river in philly. It was a haven for spraypainting, drugs, and rock throwing.

I am reading this and a few other blogs to my wife during her day long induction. Walt's are to poopy for her so congrats on the accomplishment of keeping her entertained.

Waltsense.com said...

Knuckles. Great story. Reminds me of the "pump Houe", which was an old factory along the river in philly. It was a haven for spraypainting, drugs, and rock throwing.

I am reading this and a few other blogs to my wife during her day long induction. Walt's are to poopy for her so congrats on the accomplishment of keeping her entertained.

Pastor Sharon said...

My love for Raggedy Andy and Raggedy Ann runs deep.
My first memory of them is at 3 yrs. old when my God Mother gave me a sleeping bag with Ann and Andy printed all over it. Along with that came the rag dolls.

A couple years ago, when Kohls department store was doing a "Save the Kids" drive, they were selling the book and rag dolls. I bought a pair of dolls and a book, put them in a care package with a love note to my Godmother for caring for me the way she did and sent it to her for Mother's Day.

I'm glad you survived the war in the factory! Head bleeds are the worst!

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