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My Biggest Childhood Regret

July 23, 2012


“Smile though your heart is aching.”

Looking back on my childhood, I recall incidents more worthy of a lifetime of regret:

(1)  That I was only nice to my sweet, loyal friend Shannon when the cooler kids weren’t around.

(2)  That I turned up my nose at 98% of the delicious, home-cooked meals my mom placed in front of me.

(3)  That five minutes after our beloved cat Clyde got flattened by a car tire and I called my dad at work, I led off with, “Can we get another cat?”

(4)  That I wasted far too many hours playing Super Mario Brothers and not enough on The Legend of Zelda.

(5)  That I jumped on the Permwagon at the tender age of 8, that I stayed on board too long, and that those were prime side-pony years I’ll never get back.

But the regret that’s stuck with me:  that I didn’t put my money down on red.

It was 1980-ish at a carnival in Nebraska.

My dad and I decided to try our luck at the midway while my mom and brother were off gambling with their lives on the Tilt-A-Whirl.  I was proudly sporting my new Urban Cowboy-inspired hat – bright purple trim with bright purple feathers, assumingly plucked off the flesh of a Flying Purple People Eater.  Coordinating clip-on feathers dangled from the brim.  Life was good.

And that’s when I saw him.  The most enormous teddy bear I’d ever seen in all my six years.  He was massive, bigger than me — and smiling, practically waving to me, from atop a game booth shelf.

He was fuzzy and smartly dressed in a beanie, vest and matching bow tie.  With all the qualifications one would deem as “cute”, he was the spitting image of Yogi’s sidekick Boo-Boo — enough resemblance to make kids swoon, but not enough to risk Hanna-Barbera copyright infringement.

Like this — except Boo-Boo instead of Yogi. And cuter.

My memory of the game itself is a bit vague.  There was a chest-level counter with painted squares of all the colors of a jumbo box of crayons.  Behind the counter was a roulette wheel with corresponding squares.  Players were to put money down on one color.  I remember it costing a quarter to play, but this makes no sense — then why not put a quarter down on every color?  I don’t know.  I’ll say it was a dollar so you don’t challenge the statistics.

The game was packed with people along the counter, and I squeezed my way into a space by the red slot as my dad looked on, beaming at me with the pride that every parent must feel when his child gets that first taste of losing all their hard-earned money in the most pointless fashion.

I was content with my choice of red and placed my money down.

A split second before the wheel would spin, I panicked.  Red?  That’s too obvious.  It’s right in front of me.  That can’t be right.  Why, there’s periwinkle, gray and burnt sienna down the row that are much more obscure.

So at the last moment, I grabbed my dollar and reached it across the beer-bellies and lacquered hairdos to place my money on gray.

That’s right about when the wheel stopped on red.

And that’s right about when the words were uttered that would linger in my conscience for years to come.

“Aw, you had it right there!”  My dad exclaimed this as he slapped down his hand on the red square for emphasis.  Then he added an all-in-good-fun laugh as if I just missed a question on a flash card.  No big deal.  We’ll move on to the ring toss.  Maybe we’ll win a Smokey and the Bandit mirrored wall tile.

Stunned and horrified, I looked to the man who won Enormous Teddy – weak-chinned, slopey shoulders, a Pink Floyd t-shirt, haphazardly feathered hair.  Clearly the kind of person incapable of appreciating what he had.  Clearly the kind of person who’d exploit Enormous Teddy, using him as an inconspicuous vessel to conceal his stash of pot.

I tried to get past the loss of Enormous Teddy by convincing myself I was better off without him.

(1)  That he would’ve made my other stuffed animals jealous, that there’d be drama.

(2)  That he wasn’t quite as huggable as he looked, that he was stiff as a cadaver, made of thin polyester carnival fabric and stuffed with sawdust.

(3)  That the midway smell had permeated his fur, that it’d taint his hugability for all our days.

None of this convincing worked — for one, who wouldn’t want to hug on something smelling of cotton-candy-popcorn-gear-grease?

Four years later, I moved to a new town, to a different school, starting from scratch in the social arena.  I couldn’t help but think how easy it’d be to assert myself into friendships using the social currency of Enormous Teddy.  Enormous Teddy would push me ahead — to the status level of the kid with the Dukes of Hazzard pinball machine, or the kid with the glow-in-the-dark basketball hoop, or the kid with the unspayed cats.

One would assume I eventually moved on from toys, dabbled with adolescence and outgrew the loss of Enormous Teddy.  Mostly that is true.  But I never got past the words.  No, I continued to hear them in my head for years — through every near-miss and failure life would throw my way.

“Aw, you had it right there!”

Again and again.

Sometimes at night, while lying in bed looking over at my sleeping husband, I still hear the words.

“Aw, you had it right there!”

And so I lean in close, wrap my arms around him, exhaling with the contentment that I have everything I’ve ever wanted in life.

And I pretend he’s filled with sawdust.

70 Comments leave one →
  1. July 23, 2012 6:06 am

    Access to his morning cereal box, a hidden sack of sawdust, a steady hand to ensure the amount of sawdust you add is well measured, and your dream could actually come true over a period of a few months. He may go up though if held too closely to any naked flames.

    • July 24, 2012 7:55 pm

      Brilliant, my friend. Just brilliant. I’m thinking if I buy something whole grain, something more mealy, in the cereal aisle, it would be even less likely that our little plot would be uncovered.

  2. July 23, 2012 6:06 am

    Clever… I’m going to have to think about stealing the subject from ya. Won’t be nearly as funny tho, I promise! :>

    • July 24, 2012 7:56 pm

      Go for it! Make me proud!

      • July 26, 2012 8:43 pm

        Oh goodness… the pressure! ;}

        Of course, by the time I actually write it, we both will have forgotten this whole conversation. :>

      • July 27, 2012 7:14 pm

        Sounds very similar to my writing process.

  3. July 23, 2012 6:12 am

    You hit it on the red with this post.

    • July 24, 2012 7:59 pm

      Aw, thanks, Heather. What do I win? Please tell me a crate full of Strawberry Shortcake dolls? Please?

      • July 25, 2012 7:24 am

        I could tell you that. Some of them are losing their hair by the handful, though, so I’m not sure that you want them.

      • July 27, 2012 7:13 pm

        Aw, what a shame. And they had so much to live for. Now they’re useless to me.

  4. July 23, 2012 6:23 am

    Brilliant. Loved, loved, loved the ending!

    • July 23, 2012 8:12 am

      I agree! The ending is so clever.

      • July 24, 2012 8:01 pm

        Thanks, Amy. I hope to specialize in blog post endings that involve sawdust.

    • July 24, 2012 8:00 pm

      Thank you. This makes up for my husband not loving it.

  5. July 23, 2012 6:26 am

    Good news! Calvin Klein is coming out with a new line of fragrances called “Carney”. The fresh scents speak of the pure sugar and red dye number 4 aroma of cotton candy, with a hint of the manly corn dog. There are undertones of compressor exhaust with just a glimmer of the 4-H pavillion.

    On a side note, your husband is a lucky man – he can rest easy knowing that if one of his eyes ever falls off, you’ll be sure to sew it back on. On the negative side, he has to know that he’s only a “Love Boat” lunch box away from being relegated to the back of the closet.

    Stellar post as always.

    • July 24, 2012 8:06 pm

      I am so ready for that new line of fragrance. The no brainer of course would be having a Kardashian sister serve as its spokesmodel.

      How do you know about 4-H? I didn’t know that 4-H translated beyond Broken Bow, Nebraska.

      I would never dump my husband for a Love Boat lunchbox. The A Team? Of course I would.

      • July 24, 2012 8:16 pm

        At least the big guy knows where he stands.

        I only know about the 4H from what I’ve read. There was nothing remorely similar to it in the New York suburbs of Northern New Jersey.

        If there’s no Kardashian’s available (which is unthinkable…i mean, what the hell are they doing?), I’m sure Tonya Harding is available. Nothing quite says “Carney” like convincing a guy named Gilhooley to bust your competition across the knees with a crow bar.

      • July 24, 2012 8:18 pm

        Tonya Harding = Perfect. I was just now replying to a comment about my double axel jump. No joke.

      • July 24, 2012 8:23 pm

        double axel, into a triple sow-cow, back into a lutz, into Johnnie B Goode then back into Truckin’ to end the show…exxxxxxcellent!

      • July 24, 2012 8:26 pm

        I have no words, except maybe “wow” and “wow”.

      • July 24, 2012 8:29 pm

        Uh oh…”wow” and “wow” ?!!? You didn’t take the brown acid did you?

      • July 24, 2012 8:35 pm

        Makes the mind wonder doesn’t it? You write a lovely post about the Teddy Bear that got away, and somehow one of your “fans” has morphed the comment stream into references to bad LSD at Woodstock and hiring Tonya Harding to plug “Carney” cologne. Where oh where did things go so horribly astray?!

      • July 24, 2012 8:37 pm

        No, I don’t blame the drugs. Things usually go very, very bad in comment chains when someone introduces a Kardashian into the discussion. It just has a way of going downhill from there.

      • July 24, 2012 8:41 pm

        You’re blaming yourself?! You’re some kind of special martyr!

        I’m just glad I left triple-toe loops out of the discussion – no good could have possibly come of that.

  6. July 23, 2012 7:32 am

    I wanted a big Teddy or (insert other gargantuan stuffed toy, I seem to remember a big gorilla) from a fair, too. But I agree that all your other beloved stuffed animals would have been jealous, riots could have broken out, probably would have gotten ugly.

    I won a goldfish at our local fair and he didn’t fare so well.

    Neither did my hair (permed age 12-19)…but too many recent regrets have trumped that old one :)

    • July 24, 2012 8:10 pm

      Yes, I forgot about the goldfish prizes at the fairs! They were crammed into teeny tiny spherical fish bowls and had the shelf life of fruit flies.

      I think my hair is permanently (no pun intended; I hate puns) fried from my perm days. And I have yet to look back on a single picture of a woman with a perm in the ’80s and thought, “Smart move.”

  7. July 23, 2012 8:10 am

    Aw, great post.

  8. July 23, 2012 9:03 am

    My biggest regret is not coming up with anything clever to say in this comment.

    Great post, btw. Me like permwagon.

    • July 24, 2012 8:14 pm

      My biggest regret is not coming up with anything clever to say in response to this. Maybe if I just repeat “permwagon” I’ll be okay.

  9. July 23, 2012 9:18 am

    I should have INSISTED on the Dorothy Hammill cut. It would have changed my life. I am sure of it.

    • July 24, 2012 8:17 pm

      I still love that haircut. I mean it. I’d do it tomorrow if you could assure me that it would look exactly like hers and that every single strand would fall back into place after performing my double axel.

  10. July 23, 2012 9:59 am

    I don’t know if this will help you, Angie. If it will finally quell that little voice that has been in your head all these years, or if it is too little, too late. But I had Enormous Puppy. A full, 4 feet of sappy smiling, crunch-when-you-hug stuffed love wearing bright, yellow and white polyester fur.

    And he was not enough to fill all the lonely places.

    • July 24, 2012 8:19 pm

      Oh, Enormous Puppy. What I would give. And once again you achieve comment gold, Peg.

  11. July 23, 2012 10:23 am

    I had my hair permed at the age of 8 as well! Only mine was over summer vacation and when we came back to school (I’d been going there since Kindergarten) no one recognized me! I looked like a Richard Simmons Mini-me.

    • July 24, 2012 8:22 pm

      Richard Simmons Mini-Me. You could’ve searched high and low but I don’t think you would’ve found another description that would’ve better illustrated bad perm syndrome. Well done.

  12. Beth permalink
    July 23, 2012 10:34 am

    Great post! I’m so impressed that your dad let you play. Mine would have just shook his head and said “Those games are rigged – you’ll never win!”

    • July 24, 2012 8:25 pm

      Sounds familiar. It’s actually very un-Larry of Larry to have allowed me to play those carnival games. I’m surprised he didn’t first walk me through a probability analysis using PayDay game money and colored pipe cleaners.

  13. surroundedbyimbeciles permalink
    July 23, 2012 10:52 am

    I would rather have the Smokey and the Bandit mirrored wall tile. Then, I could look at it and say, “I’m gonna get you – you sumbitch!”

    • July 24, 2012 8:28 pm

      Now that you mention it — of the two prize items, which would I want to own today? Yeah, the Smokey and the Bandit mirrored wall tile. No question. In fact, I’d be suspicious of anyone who answered otherwise.

  14. July 23, 2012 11:51 am

    This post made me think of the one you did where you said you had no major childhood traumas, so therefore you couldn’t really be a writer.

    This experience absolutely qualifies as a trauma. Keep writing.

    • July 24, 2012 8:29 pm

      Thanks, Elyse — you have no idea how nice it feels to be validated like this.

  15. July 23, 2012 12:53 pm

    My hair actually turned curly when I hit puberty. I didn’t realize it, though, until a girl said, “You were cute until you got your hair permed.” That was not a great moment.

    • July 24, 2012 8:32 pm

      You poor thing! If only you would’ve hit puberty around 1974, the final season of The Brady Bunch — that was a good year for men with curls.

  16. July 23, 2012 2:15 pm

    Oh. My. God. Angie. I never break out the super-short sentences unless I am really. Really. Feeling. Emotional. You poor. Sad. Woman.

    Sure you missed out on those big lovable sack of sawdust dreams…but those little mirrored tiles weren’t so bad, were they? I had my wall covered in them: Van Halen, AC/DC, Rolling Stones. I was the coolest kid on the block. Until my brother kicked his soccer ball into my room one day and then my life was just a broken mess of cheap mirror shards and Def Leppard dreams.

    See? We all have our traumas, Angie. You will be fine. Just fine. Even though you ‘had it right there!’

    • July 24, 2012 8:35 pm

      Reading this tale, I feel like such a crummy self-absorbed friend. How did I not know of such suffering in your youth? And how did I not know you collected mirrored wall tiles?

      Now I know what I’m getting you for your next birthday.

  17. July 23, 2012 7:25 pm

    I suspect that our lives are not identical, yet we do share exactly the same regret: I should have bet on red too. It was my first (and last) time in Atlantic city; my first (and last) time playing roulette. I figured I couldn’t lose. My plan was to bet on black, doubling my bet each time until I won. That way, I couldn’t possibly do anything but win a sum equal to my original bet. What I didn’t count on was 14 reds in a row, the odds of that being 16,384 to 1. After all these years, the sting of my bad luck still smarts. Think I need to get a bag of sawdust to hug.

    • July 24, 2012 8:41 pm

      Gambling never goes quite as smoothly as it did on Rain Man, does it?

      You’ve heard of buckwheat pillows, right? I think after writing this post, I’m going to introduce a line of sawdust pillows. Care to invest? I’ll let you in on the ground floor.

      • July 25, 2012 6:20 pm

        I’m in – I’ll have a good sum to invest as soon as I get the big payoff from this deal I’ve got going with a Nigerian prince. Exciting times. The opportunities keep finding me!

      • July 25, 2012 6:25 pm

        Nigerian prince? You too? Oh, wow. You’re never going to believe this but we have another big coincidence on our hands.

      • July 27, 2012 10:11 am

        This is getting weird. It’s almost like we’re the same person. Suddenly, I feel redundant.

  18. July 23, 2012 10:58 pm

    LOL You’re awesome. You should do stand up :)

    • July 24, 2012 8:42 pm

      Good one. I can’t even address a small group of preschool children without breaking out in stress hives.

      • July 24, 2012 8:43 pm

        Really? Hmmmm… honestly, you should do stand up. Practice on the hubby and kids :)

      • July 24, 2012 8:49 pm

        Baby steps, yes. I actually once tried to do a vlog for y’all. I got nervous while talking to my iPad. I need help. Really though, thank you for the kind words.

  19. July 24, 2012 1:37 pm

    Ang, this might be your best post yet (toothpaste pic costumes excluded). Your description of the “weak-chinned, slopey shoulders, a Pink Floyd t-shirt, haphazardly feathered haired” victor was top-notch. It’s like I was there. I HAD IT RIGHT THERE. Oh god! Why?! Why did I move it away from red?!

    Also? Why do you assume your side-pony wearing days are over?

    Side note: When I was about the same age, my parents gave ME a Legend of Zelda trash can for Christmas, and my brother (4 years older) flipped his garbage lid. He assumed -quite logically as I didn’t even play that game- that the glorious gift under the tree was for him. I think my parents just messed up out of exhaustion and apathy, but I wouldn’t let him have it, and rubbed it in every chance I got.

    Original Brat-ass, meet your match.

    • July 24, 2012 8:46 pm

      Thanks, Jules. You’re the best — with just the right amount of bratass to your flavor. And that Zelda trash can story was the bomb. I love that it was a Zelda trash can. It could’ve been a Zelda lunchbox or a Zelda sleeping bag. But they actually made Zelda trash cans? You go, Nintendo. Way to squeeze every last penny of profit out of your evil empire.

      I would write more but I’m off to side-pony my hair now.

  20. John-Paul permalink
    July 25, 2012 4:13 am

    I’m pretty sure nothing has more endurance in the mind than the act of an unjust teacher, or the memory of the toy you never got when you were a kid. Great story.

    • July 27, 2012 7:10 pm

      Unjust teacher! Yes! How’d you know? Ooh, it’s just so maddening to think about unjust teachers. I feel a new blog post swirling in my head.

      Thanks, JP. It’s always sunshine and Vegemite sandwiches when you stop by.

  21. July 25, 2012 4:37 am

    I say it’s never to late to have a happy dhildhood. Go out and get yourself a stuffed something-or-other. Any stuffed animal besides a turkey. You deserve it.

    • July 27, 2012 7:12 pm

      I bought a Cabbage Patch Kid a couple of years ago. Um, for my daughter. Yes, of course it was for my daughter, what are you implying? That I would want it? Ha! No. Um.

      • July 30, 2012 3:07 am

        Of course, it was for your daughter. And those little clothes and matching accessories…collector’s items someday, of course.

      • July 31, 2012 6:01 pm

        This reminds me of the 1990s beanie babies craze — “…but they’ll be worth money someday!” *Sound of me hurling into a metal trashcan.*

  22. July 25, 2012 5:44 pm

    your bangs defy gravity! they are so perky and full of body! I hope you were in hair commercials.

  23. July 26, 2012 10:04 am

    So much goodness in this post! But my favourite:

    I tried to get past the loss of Enormous Teddy by convincing myself I was better off without him.

    (1) That he would’ve made my other stuffed animals jealous, that there’d be drama.


    • July 27, 2012 7:18 pm

      I think you and I both know how realistic this concern was. We might’ve all ended up on Jerry Springer. Me, Enormous Teddy, all the regular-sized stuffed animals. Bad news.

  24. July 31, 2012 5:30 pm

    We had one of those enormous teddy bears. It was as stiff and unforgiving as a rock. (Plus it smelled like all hell.) I’d much rather have had a Power Wheels jeep instead!

    • July 31, 2012 6:05 pm

      Dana, you have no idea how much this information will help me heal. Thank you for that.

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