For several years, dating back to when my son Andrew was a toddler, he and I went on errands together. To help make these excursions into adventures, we treated department store's toys as our temporary playthings. Of course, I endured many harsh glares from store associates as well as those of my fellow customers but we made sure that everything taken from the shelves was returned to its rightful place, (big bouncy balls and Beanie Babies were his favorites).
WHILE MY WIFE SUE WAS WORKING, I TRIED TO COME UP WITH FRESH IDEAS. WHEN MY LITTLE BUDDY WAS ABOUT TWO AND A HALF, WE TRIED GOING ONE-ON-ONE, TO A RESTAURANT FOR THE FIRST TIME, (PLEASE NOTE HE'S HAVING A GRAND SLAM AND I'M HAVING A GRAND SLAM JUNIOR). WHEN I TOOK A COUPLE OF PHOTOS TO COMMEMORATE THE DAY, THE KIND WAITER, (FRANK), VOLUNTEERED TO SNAP THIS ONE.
In the early stages, the thing that proved to be so alluring to him was the jungle's countless, tiny, rickety wooden bridges. On one specific bridge, he liked to throw twigs down into the stream below and watch them float away. He named this spot, "Pooh Sticks Bridge." This name came from a sequence in Disney's "WINNIE THE POOH," cartoon series.
Winnie the Pooh was adapted from author A. A. Milne's series of stories about Christopher Robin and the imaginary adventures he had with stuffed animals, (primarily his bear, Winnie the Pooh).
CHARACTER ACTOR STERLING HALLOWAY, (1905-1992), APPEARED IN OVER 150 FILMS AND TV SHOWS FROM, 1926-1977. TO ME, HE IS MOST REMEMBERED AS THE ORIGINAL VOICE OF, "WINNIE THE POOH."
Andrew liked naming things. He was influenced by the an illustration of Winnie the Pooh's old tramping grounds, the Hundred Acre Wood.
IN A SHORT TIME, ANDREW BEGAN NAMING THE HOT SPOTS OF THE JUNGLE, IN THE MANNER OF THE HUNDRED ACRE WOOD PHOTO ABOVE.
Some of his areas were called; "Swirly Mountain," "Bird Town," "The King's Throne," "Waddles Canal," and "The Palace Gate." MARCH 1997, ANDREW'S LANDMARK, "THE GREAT UP-DOWN," IS DONE IN REVERSE.
On one trip, I brought a notebook and listed the distinguishable locales that Andrew dubbed. When we got home, together, we drew a rough map similar to the one from the Winnie the Pooh book, (this map could not be found by press time...I hope it wasn't...gulp...trashed).
We were so proud of the jungle that down through the years, Sue, my mother and many of Andrew's friends came along with us to share the fun. One of his friend's mom even suggested that she make her own artistic rendering of our crude map...but unfortunately it never happened.WINNIE THE POOH HELPED DEFINE MY SON'S GENERATION OF TV ENTERTAINMENT. SO WHEN BORDER'S BOOK STORE HAD A PARTY CELEBRATING POOH'S BIRTHDAY, ANDREW THREW FASHIONABILITY TO WIND AND WAS THE FIRST ARRIVAL.
May 2, 1997, was a chilly, windswept, cloudy day. It also marked the first time we took my wife Sue to the jungle. Even though she didn't wear the right shoes, didn't like walking through cobwebs, brier patches and thorny vines or have the same appreciation for discovering peacock poop on Turtle Island, she still liked it. She was most impressed with Pooh Sticks Bridge and joined in by throwing some in herself.
The King's Throne marked the end of the jungle. After Andrew demonstrated the secret passage behind it, we continued to the last wooden bridge that led back to civilization, the lake, the small zoo and the playground.
On this last bridge, Sue and I discussed the beauty of the park and the power it would have on any kid's imagination. At the same time, Andrew gathered small branches and flung them into the water. I'm guessing that he was dissatisfied by their lack of movement on the still lake. So he advanced to the edge of the bridge for a better look, (he was just the right size to fit under the single cross-bar railing). He must have leaned over too far and fell, face first, into the murk. Like Clark Kent, I didn't waste any time putting on my Uberman costume and jumped into the one-foot deep lake.
Andrew's back was still dry but the poor boy was freaking out. He was screaming the whole way back to the car, (ironic how I remember being glad that my wife was with me to share the blame). A wave of fear gripped me when I thought he might be in shock. Then I got an epiphany and told my brave warrior that if he stopped crying, I would take him to Dunkin' Donuts. He might have been shivering from being wet and cold but the thought of a French cruller indeed stopped his crying.
A week or so later, Andrew and I returned to the jungle. When we got to that bridge, I looked down and saw that he fell into a tight space between a submerged, pointed wooden spike and some jagged chicken-wire. I thanked my lucky stars that he wasn't impaled or cut-up on the rusty wire.
Down through the years, it's amazing how infrequently that day comes to mind. Last week it did when Sue and I met at Birch Grove Park on her lunch hour. At the lake, we were feeding ducks when I was reminded that the fourteenth anniversary of this near tragic event had just passed.
I estimate that its been twelve years since I've been there. In that time, they have enlarged the playground, eliminated the small zoo and most importantly re-built all the little bridges...complete with a second, lower, cross-beam, to minimize the chance of kids falling in the lake.
It's funny how fate comes from out of nowhere when you least expect it and in the strangest places.
If Winnie the Pooh's friend Tigger was here, he'd have two things to say. First; A wonderful thing is a Tigger; a Tigger is a wonderful thing. Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of spring. They're bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. The most wonderful thing about Tiggers is...I'm the only one...I'm, the only one.