When I was about seven years old, my sister and I spent hours poring over the Sears catalog looking for things we wanted for Christmas. The research paid off when we happened upon ventriloquist puppets and subsequently determined that we must have these in order to live productive lives of fulfillment.
She wanted WASPy Charlie McCarthy with his monocle and top hat -- fitting for a child whose lunch box in elementary school was Jonathan Livingston Seagull. (She's a lawyer now. I know you may find that shocking, Internet.) I, on the other hand, wanted Lester -- the hip, African American ventriloquist puppet. (I had a Waltons lunch box as a kid, so I'm not necessarily making the argument that there's a coolness correlation here. But Jonathan Livingston Seagull?...really...?)
My parents totally indulged us and ordered the puppets for us that Christmas. However, Sears was out of stock (some of you may remember the great ventriloquist puppet famine of the 70s), so under the tree that year my sister and I each received an envelope with an original poem on the outside and the catalog picture of the puppet we wanted on the inside. Mine read as follows (and was written in my father's distinctive all caps, slanted handwriting):
There's a picture of someone you know inside
To be here in person, he really tried
But here's a promise, he'll be here quick
Just put your faith in good ol' Saint Nick
When we received the puppets a few weeks later, we had a lot of fun practicing ventriloquism and making up short plays. I think Charlie even made an appearance in a junior high production of Godspell. (Sure...pick the WHITE puppet for the junior high play...)
I still have Lester (I've seen enough horror movies to know that I could never truly get rid of him). He's made appearances at parties we've had and has become a bit of a running joke with my friends. Once, when my friend, Meredith, was visiting shortly after Avery was born, she moved the baby out of her crib and replaced her with Lester, so that when I came in to check on my newborn in the middle of the night, I almost had a heart attack. (I have great friends.)
Another friend, Amy, went on a cruise a few years back and the original Lester (and his puppet master, Willie Tyler) were performing on the ship. She pulled some strings (pun obviously intended) and got me an autographed photo.
A childhood defined by ventriloquist puppets, nudist parents, and mocking religious figures...I'm surprised Norman Rockwell never painted that scene.