From the Front Porch: My friend George

Some forty-odd years ago I was introduced to Curious George. He was given to one of our children as a Christmas or birthday gift. He’s seen some rough times over the years, but I’ve never seen him when he wasn’t smiling.

For example, there were times in a backyard baseball game when he was at second base. I don’t mean he played second base. He was second base. Likewise, when the kids wanted to play football, but couldn’t find one, George became the football. There was even an incident when I once had to get a ladder and untangle him from a basketball net, where he’d been ensnared and left alone. So I suppose you could call him a three-sport athlete.

All of this use and abuse would have taken its toll on a lesser being, but George was fortunate. He had an in-home health care provider – Grandma Janey – who kept him stitched up and healthy.

For many years I didn’t pay much, if any, attention to George. After our own children were grown and gone, George, along with a lot of other toys wiled away the days, months and years in the attic. That lasted until the grandchildren came along.

As this new generation came of age, Grandma Jane began bringing age-appropriate toys back down from the attic. George was among the first. By the time she’d finished hauling out this ragtag bunch of retro-toys, she had made a trip to Wal-Mart to purchase a huge plastic tub to keep them in.

Now then, I know how today’s children are drawn to electronic toys, but we’ve found that they like the retro-toys too – at least they seem to when they come to our house. That big plastic tub contains a plethora of playthings from the past: Playskool blocks and a mailbox with blocks of different shapes and sizes; a Jeep Wrangler pickup (circa 1968) made of all metal with real rubber tires; a rotary telephone; a half box of Tinker Toys; a half box of Lincoln Logs; several dolls; too many stuffed toys to count.

Last but not least, sitting atop that toy box is my friend George. He still has that same serene smile he had whenever he first came into our home. The only real change, besides a stitch or two here and there, are his sweater and baseball cap. They used to be bright red, but as the years have passed, they’ve faded to a kind of burnt orange.

All I can say is that George has aged a lot better than some, present company included.

Somehow, though, that doesn’t bother me. As I mentioned above, George suffered through some pretty tough times; and through it all, he’s never lost that smile. I think that speaks volumes about George’s aging so well.

As for me? Well, I’ve been known to be somewhat of a cup half empty sort of a guy. But I think, because of Curious George and that infectious smile of his, I might be looking at things on the brighter side here lately.

Not only that, now, whenever I walk through that playroom and see George, I’ll more than likely smile at him and say something like, “George, my man. How ya doin’ today?” (When you get to be my age you can do that sort of thing and people think no less of you for it.) Anyway, I ask him, and I won’t go so far as to say he answers me, but every now and then I swear I see just a barely perceptible affirmative nod of his head as he smiles back at me.

It’s a pleasure to call him my friend.

Mike McMahon is two-time winner of the Montana Newspaper Association’s Columnist of the Year award. He lives in Deer Lodge with his wife Jane where he’s working on his third book of anecdotes collected while sitting on his front porch swing.

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