I’d like to introduce you to Pineappley. Yes, the name is ridiculous. I can’t claim responsibility for that part, but those among you who have kids will likely recognize the imprint of the mercurial and ultimately stubborn child psyche in the bestowment of the moniker.
I’m not writing to describe how the stuffed not-quite-animal got its name, though. This is a love story.
For starters, Pineappley chose us. Or rather, he chose my son. A long time ago, when Thing Two (not his real name) was barely two, we flew to the States to visit our parents before my husband deployed to Iraq. While we were at their house, Thing Two wandered into the kitchen toward what I can only describe as my mother-in-law’s shrine to pineapples.
Some people collect things; my mother-in-law amasses them. One of her passions is pineapples. There are magnets, hundreds and hundreds of magnets. There are tiny cutesy window hangings, pineapples with faces, dancing pineapples, stone pineapples, pineapple-emblazoned art replete with pithy sayings, and, on the larger end of the scale, stuffed pineapple dolls. As somebody with an avid desire to get rid of things—all things, but especially the type of things that require dusting—I don’t understand the need to collect inanimate objects. But because it’s not my house, and I don’t have to dust them, the pineapples don’t bother me.
But I digress. On this hot July day, my stubby, squat, redheaded son laid eyes on a stubby, squat, pineapple doll, and it was love at first sight. He clutched that pineapple to his chest with his fat little hands and didn’t put it down for the two weeks we were in Virginia. I tried to get him to put the pineapple back before we got in the car to leave, but he made a big sad face and looked away from me. Mother-in-law recognized true love and graciously let Thing Two “adopt” him. “What’s his name, Thing Two?” she asked him through the window.
Thing Two held his new buddy all the way up I-95 to Massachusetts, all around my parents’ house, through the backyard, and on our camping trip to Plymouth. He went to sleep every night holding the pineapple tightly in both arms.
When we flew back to Germany, Pineapple had pride of place in Thing Two’s carry-on backpack. Pineappley was Thing Two’s best friend before and during that deployment. I’d walk upstairs to put away laundry and hear Thing Two in his room reading stories to Pineappley. He’d talk to him the way my husband talked to the boys. It was so frigging cute, this little lispy voice telling a pineapple that it was going to do great things when it grew up. And there wasn’t a single night that Thing Two fell asleep without that iron grip around his buddy.
I thought his attachment would wane as the year slipped past and the deployment ended, but it didn’t. Thing Two has gone to sleep holding Pineappley every night since that day in 2005. He takes him to every sleepover he goes to, without a trace of embarrassment. We have moved five times in the seven years since Pineappley joined our family. Every time we fly, I pack him very carefully in tissue paper and a gallon-sized Ziploc bag before we stow him in the carry-on bag, so that even if our luggage is lost, Pineapple will still be with us. He is the first thing we unpack on every trip.
Pineappley has given much to his country. He started with arms, legs, eyes, and a lovely green plume on top of his head. Through the years, he has lost an arm, a leg, most of the plume and a considerable amount of stuffing. He is too fat to fit under the arm of my sewing machine, so repairs are by necessity limited to what I can magick with some Stitch Witchery, an iron, and (sporadically) a giant darning needle. Honestly, the doll looks like the After picture from a retrospective on the Crimean War. Well, if pineapples had fought in the Crimean War. You get the idea.
So you have all this background on the relationship between the Pineapple and the Boy. It’s all well and good, but at this point you might be wondering, so what? I’ll get to the point. It all came to a head a few weeks ago, Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend.
The loss of limbs and major organs seemed to abate for the past two years, since Pineappley hasn’t sacrificed anything since we left for Korea in 2010. That night, though, I’d put the kids to bed and come downstairs to clean up the kitchen.
A few minutes later, Thing Two bolted down the stairs and into my arms. He’s not a squishy little boy any more, he’s tall and whippet thin, all ribs and freckles and red hair. But he’s still got a tender little heart, and he still keeps his own counsel. He rarely cries. That night, though, his eyes and the tip of his nose were red. He was trying as hard as he could to hold it in.
“Pineappley’s leg came off.” He held up his hands; the doll in one and the leg in the other. The leg had a little sneaker on the foot.
“Mom, can you fix it? He’s only got one leg left.”
A caveat is necessary here. Over the years, I have regarded Thing Two’s affection for Pineappley with amusement, a sort of benevolent “awww-isn’t-that-cute” feeling. I am also very pleased that he is so caring and attentive to his buddy, because it demonstrates a kindness and generosity of spirit that I’ve since seen him convey in his friendships. But each time I put the doll in its Ziploc armor or try to remove its latest fruit punch/chocolate ice cream/magic marker stain, I’ve really only thought of it as something that’s important to Thing Two, a particular eccentricity of his that we indulge.
I gave Thing Two a hug and told him to put Pineappley on my nightstand so I could take a look at it. We went upstairs and I tucked Thing Two in. Then I went in to examine the patient. I had to bring it into the bathroom because the light is better. I held the leg, trying to find a way to sew it back on. Then I picked up the body.
I looked at its big, doofy face with the googley eyes, and I lost it. I sat on the floor and cried, for this little boy and his big heart and all the times he’s hugged that doll because he missed his daddy, or his grandparents, or all the friends he left behind at the last school, or the one before that. I cried because he’s so happy that Dad is coming home from Afghanistan soon, but that he knows it’s only for a little while. I cried because this little boy has spent his entire life saying goodbye to people because of a lifestyle his father and I chose almost 25 years ago. And I cried because I am not going to be able to sew that leg back on.
Don’t worry, this is not a sob fest. After awhile, I got myself a Kleenex and a beer and I started to think. And what I realized is that this child and his love of a stuffed pineapple have given me a lesson about resilience. Thing Two isn’t dysfunctional, or maladjusted, or unhappy. Like so many other military kids, he’s sacrificed too. He’s intensely proud of his dad, and of being an Army brat. He’s sad right now, which is entirely normal. Some of it is about his dad, and some of it is about the stuffed toy losing a leg. But he decided, as a wise little old man in a two-year-old’s body, to find a coping mechanism. And it’s been a wonderful relationship since then. Would that all of us could find a Pineappley and love it so unguardedly.