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A tattered chimp bestows lessons on fatherhood

July 17, 2012

A tattered chimp bestows lessons on fatherhood

as published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette

I first met Zippy in July 2006 during my inaugural trip to the family beach house.

My wife, Lori’s, late grandfather, Pup pups, purchased the Redwood in 1959. This simple one-story home, which has a flat roof that acts like a solar collector and no central air conditioning, is where four generations of family have melded through decades of steamy New England summers.

The extended family surprised us with our first baby shower. I did my best to look both interested and appreciative as we unwrapped a mound of gifts for a child whose name, gender and face would remain a mystery until autumn. Inwardly I thought, given the cost to buy an extra suitcase for all the presents and check an additional bag on our return flight, a Target gift card would have been easier.

The last package was a plain cardboard box about the size of a toaster oven. As Lori opened it, laughter filled the room and a startled look washed over my face. I wasn’t quite sure, but it looked like a monkey. Bits of stuffing were visible through the faded and torn black cloth that formed its body, the fur and both ears were missing, the plastic hands and shoed feet were weathered and the face was interrupted by an eerie smile that sent a chill up my spine.

Two years before purchasing the Redwood, Pup pups gifted Zippy the Chimp to his first grandchild, giving birth to a tradition in which the doll is passed along to each newborn in a family that now includes eight grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren. As the newest member of the clan, I thought it best not to tempt tradition. So when it was time to leave, I packed Zippy in our new suitcase.

I remember being changed by that trip. Seeing all the treasured landmarks I had heard Lori describe since first meeting her, knowing an entire childhood of summers, in this place and with these people, was housed in Lori’s soul, I knew she had experienced something I had not and I realized that I wanted our child to know this place, too.

Five years later and living 1,800 miles closer to the Redwood, Zippy was on life support. He was safely stored in a family heirloom cedar chest, held together by a few threads and lots of duct tape. Our kids – Adam and big sister Zoe – had offered their beloved Zips more affection than his aging body could handle.

Then we got the call; a new baby cousin had been born. Actually, it was the second new cousin in just a few months and pressure was mounting for us to honor the family tradition.

Haunted by the prospect of endless family discord that would surely result if we traumatized the new babies with Zippy, in his macabre state, Lori and I vowed to restore him, and fast.

Internet searches and phone calls yielded a few dead leads, and an appointment with a local dollmaker led to a pronouncement that Zippy was in really bad shape and needed to be taken to a well-known doll hospital in a neighboring state. We were stymied. Eventually, we located a nimble-fingered doll doctor who miraculously restored Zippy, just in time for the annual gathering.

The week at the shore was glorious, the weather ideal, the full moon pulled the tide taut leaving a magnificent sand bar for play, and family connections were joyous as the energy of young children and mix of three generations bubbled under one roof.

As usual, the pinnacle of the week was the community’s Fourth of July parade.

Leading the spectacle was the familiar, faded, red Wheel Horse lawn tractor and matching cart, boasting a dozen tiny American flags affixed with duct tape, stalling every 50 yards as the gears slipped. Dozens of young children, and even more adults, clad in red, white and blue, followed on foot and by stroller, trike, bike and wagon.

Along the route traffic ground to a halt, spectators whistled and waved from their porches, saxophones played “From the Halls of Montezuma” and “Anchors Away,” and when the tractor belched to its final stop, with the mid-morning sun beating down, the crowd sang “God Bless America.”

As the final words “My home sweet home” rang-out, Zippy sat in Adam’s old umbrella stroller, decked in stars and stripes, looking regal.

There is only one legitimate way to get Zippy back in our home, and that’s not going to happen. So while the kids gracefully passed along Zippy to their baby cousin, Jasmine, I secretly hoped that he would not fit in the suitcase, and instead return home with us.

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