The 80s were a simple time. Bugs Bunny was still racist, neon was popular, inflatable airbags were in kids’ shoes instead of cars, and seat belts were merely a suggestion for children. Danger and ignorance was the culture. My childhood was great…for the most part.
I used to play with stuffed dolls just so I could join in with my older sisters. Even though I was often too young to understand, I always followed their lead. My eldest sister once grabbed a doll, placed it under her shirt, and jovially exclaimed “I’m pregnant!” With a doe-eyed sibling idolization, I leapt for the nearest doll, jammed it on my belly, and cheered “Me too!” She pummeled my endearing naivety with laughter. I was probably 4 years old when I learned that boys weren’t allowed to be pregnant.
Having been raised by a busy single mother who spent all of her time earning food for our table, my sisters were my closest available role models. They taught me multiplication and division when I was in the first grade, how to shave my face, and the quickest way to fetch them food and drinks from the kitchen. Heck, just about all of the things I’ve come to not understand about women I pretty much learned from my two beautiful sisters.
Everything changed when I lost my Popple.
Prior to Alf crash-landing into mainstream culture, Popples were among the most popular children’s toys. These dolls were flamboyant plush marsupials that looked like Frankenstein’s Care Bears stitched from a medley of highlighters. Their charming novelty was that each one could tuck itself inside their pouch. My sisters and I each had our own and loved flipping them into balls and then back into their freakish half-bear form. We made our Popples dance, sing, and occasionally shut their dumb booger face because somebody was the youngest as well as the only boy of the three.
Our favorite place for Popple tomfoolery was inside the family Toyota Wonderwagon. The tubular van was a staple of the decade’s flagrant disregard for safety standards. It was made of tin, infamous for toppling over in beach winds, and had windows that opened wide enough for children to leap out of. My mom often tested the sturdiness of the van’s engineering by reaming into cement dividers and smashing into fellow commuters. Even today, she continues to perpetuate the stereotype that pediatricians can’t drive. I don’t know how any of us survived.
We brought our Popples everywhere. We especially made certain to bring them along for every arduous van ride to church. One woeful Sunday, a brilliant idea enraptured my eldest sister. What if we opened the windows on this bitch and dangled our Popples over the freeway? With no hesitation, my sisters flung the windows open. A torrent of high speed winds consumed the van. They both jutted their Popples toward on-coming traffic and giggled in whole-hearted glee as the air violently thrashed about their dolls. Their joy was infectious. I needed to taste the fruits of such jubilant reckless abandon.
I stepped into the headwinds like a lemming approaching the cliff. The wind thrust back my fine-chiseled 5 year old biceps, but my desire to be like my sisters awoke the determination of my inner crane-kicking Daniel Larusso. I was getting out of Reseda with a rich blond girlfriend. Bonzai.
My hand swept out the window and my Popple caught ferocious turbulence. I tried to believe, though the going gets rough, but I couldn’t hang tough to make it. I was losing. Sirens blared. The emergency doors blew open and oxygen masks were deployed. The mission was failing faster than my attempts at swooning women. My Popple went through rapid seizures due to the sudden change in cabin pressure as my grip grew frantic, desperate, and feeble. I had never trained for a moment like this. If only I had listened to my mom… If only I had eaten more spinach…
All hope was lost. My Popple shed a single tear and then let go. No matter how much I tried to stretch my reach, I couldn’t go-go gadget it back into my arms. I watched my childhood fly off into the depths of the highway. It collided onto speeding windshields and vanished beneath the soot of busy tires. The entire time, my Popple somehow bravely held its innocent grin.
Blindly idolizing my sisters left me hollow. I cried for months, delved into a soulless Berenstain Bears addiction, and drowned my sorrows in root beer. My sisters did their best to console me, while gratefully clutching their own Popples that continued to tirelessly return from the trenches of battle unscathed.
Our family traveled the same highway for years. And every time we approached the scene, the three of us would gaze out the windows in silence with a tinge of hope that we might find my Popple like a missing Mousekewitz. But, my story has no happy ending. I am now an old popless man forever pained with the thought of my beloved being found by another and betraying me in the embrace of some paup’n homeless child.