In my very tasteful study, with my very tasteful furniture and my very tasteful collection of objets d’art, I have a very old, very dilapidated stuffed bee. Its name is Bombee, so named by my sister when she was too young to be able to pronounce “bumblebee” correctly. Bombee actually lucked out, name-wise; my sister’s other stuffed animals were called things like Horse, Bear, and (the pinnacle of her creative expression) Whitey, a stuffed white whale. Just call her Ishmael.
At some point, Bombee got passed down to me. I vaguely remember my sister getting upset about this, but whenever I start to feel bad about it, I remember having to wear all her hand-me-down bellbottoms. In the Eighties. So I don’t feel too guilty that I ended up with Bombee. Later on, I also swiped a John Lennon t-shirt of hers, and I don’t feel bad about that, either. The bellbottoms were polyester, and one pair was bright red.
Bombee is a bit of a puzzle to me. Specifically, I’m puzzled about why, out of all my childhood toys and family mementos, the one I choose to display is a stuffed bee that looks like it has mange. What kind of a kid cuddles a stuffed bumblebee, anyway? At that age, the extent of my knowledge of bees was that it hurts when they sting, and sometimes their stings make people puff up and have to go to the hospital. I guess I’ve made worse choices when it comes to naptime companions, but it’s still pretty weird.
I wouldn’t even say that Bombee was my favorite toy as a child. I’ve had plenty of other toys I loved and played with more— for a while, at least; a lot of those other toys ended up breaking pretty quickly. I thought for years that it was my fault until I realized that the toys that broke were almost always the ones my parent found most annoying. Still, even my quiet toys all eventually got thrown out, passed along, or packed away, and now there’s just the mangy second-hand bumblebee and I don’t really know why.
If I had to guess, I might start with how it reminds me of my sister. After all, Bombee was hers before it was mine. She named it, played with it, and loved it, and I worshipped my sister. I still do, really, but these memories come from the very beginning of my life, and my sister was like a god to me then. Everything she did was perfect because she did it, and everything she loved was good because she loved it. Sure, I could just hang up a family photograph. But when was the last time you took a picture off the wall and cradled it because it held the blessing of your sister’s love?
And if that’s how I’d start, then I think I’d end with how Bombee is the first toy I can remember. I used to tuck it into the crook of my arm while I sucked my thumb. I think I even still wore onesies. Bombee has been in my story from the beginning, when I was too young to be able to pronounce “bumblebee” and much too young to be self-conscious about the shabbiness of my stuffed companion. Bombee lived with me in the kingdom where nobody dies. I guess I’m not ready to let go of that just yet.