09/18/02
Creature Comforts
    by John Cech

I've just spent a few weeks around our year-and-a-half-old grandson, and so I can speak from first hand experience about the absolute truth of a new book called Creature Comforts, People and their Security Objects by Barbara Collopy O'Halloran, with photographs by Betty Udesen. O'Halloran's simple point is that many of us -- maybe most of us -- carry some kinds of security objects with us well beyond childhood. It may be the treasured, beat-up stuffed rabbit named "Chickie" that 35-year-old, Seattle rock musician, Chris Ballew, still takes on gigs with him everywhere. Or it could be the doll that Nellie, a ninety-year-old grandmother of ten will always cherish. "She reminds me of me when I was young. No, I wouldn't take nothun' for my doll," Nellie says.

It's a great mystery why certain objects hold this power for us. Are they a way in which we can locate ourselves, and join our past and our present? Do they provide the means of expressing something that is important to our very souls? Just look at Betty Udesen's luminous pictures in this large, generous-spirited book and you will know that something profound is going on between these radiant folks and these nobly frayed, stuffed animals and pieces of fabric. Sometimes, only a few fragments remain from a cherished, magical creature -- a toy monkey's or doll's head, or a blanket so unravelled that it looks like a handfull of spaghetti. Shane, who is nine and has been enduring chemotherapy, gets through the ordeal with Doggie, who is so worn that Shane has to constantly stitch him back together again. Udesen's amazing photo of them is like a prayer.

Then there are all the Binkeys and Blankies. Now, my grandson has a Blankey. And one day he and I played a game where he'd give me something, and I'd get to hold it for awhile, and then I'd have to return it to him, or he'd playfully wrench it out of my hands. I made the mistake of taking the initiative and picked up his favorite blanket, "Star Blanky," (because it has stars on it). He was instantly in tears, and I learned that no matter what, this one object was not part of the game. A 40-something pediatrician, Drew, reports that he gave his prized stuffed gorilla from childhood to his wife when they were married. "She wasn't quite sure what to do with him," Drew said, "I think I did that because I didn't have much else to give at the time and this was a very personal gift. This was a way of sharing my past. Besides, I knew she would give him back!"

Copyright 2002 John Cech

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Monday, 16-Dec-2002 00:23:55 EST


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