Three years ago, on Labor Day weekend, I helped one of my sons clean his room in preparation for a re-organization and repainting project. We filled six big boxes of the things he’d collected during his 16 years-- rocks, feathers, shells, coins, ticket stubs, baseball cards, football cards, baseballs, golf balls, pennants—and sent one box to the trash and two to the basement. Concerning the boxes in the basement, I was admonished not to put anything on a garage sale but to “put the stuff someplace where I can get to it, in case I need it again.”
Pluto, Mickey Mouse’s faithful sidekick, was inside one of the boxes Geoff sent to the basement. The stuffed animal had been a fixture on his bed for nearly eight years and was the only character he’d been determined to have his picture taken with when we visited Walt Disney World in 2002. At that time, Geoff was seven years old and known to friends and family as Geoffrey.
Happy-go-lucky, good-natured, friendly, silly, and witty, I figured Goofy would be his choice for a souvenir, but Pluto made sense too. Geoff is two years younger than Nate (who chose Mickey as his favorite WDW photo opportunity), and his role as the younger brother has alternated between the tagalong who was welcomed to the team, the nuisance who was reprimanded to sit and wait, and the loyal companion who could be counted on when no one else was around. I understood how Geoff could identify with the Disney character who chased after, and fought with, Chip and Dale yet always returned to take his place beside Mickey Mouse.
Three years ago, Nate left for college and Geoff started fusing some of his own Mickey Mouse characteristics into his Pluto persona. He took over the school car and its affiliated chauffeuring-younger-sibling-as-needed responsibilities. He became my go-to person for projects around the house and electronic setups I couldn’t figure out. He announced that he preferred Geoff to Geoffrey.
Pluto sat on a shelf in our basement until this past May when the basement flooded and we were forced to sort through the clutter of toys my kids had sent to the basement during their periodic bedroom re-organizations.
Geoff added Pluto to the box we were filling for charity and chided me for suggesting we add it instead to the Save box of his sister’s favorite dolls. I wasn’t so sure he’d made the right decision. I still take the heat for selling Nate’s Pokemon cards on a garage sale. Seems this card game that was so popular in elementary school made a resurgence as one of his and his college roommates’ late-night games of choice. Who could have guessed he'd want them again?
In the end, I smuggled Pluto into the box of dolls. I didn’t have the space--or the desire to find the space--needed to store all the stuffed animals and Beanie Babies that had been sent to the basement, but I saw something in the floppy body and embroidered eyes that begged to be rescued. It’s probably the same supportive, I-believe-in-you-no-matter-what, arm-around-the-shoulder warmth Geoff had seen so many years ago.
Last week, Geoff left for college. He’ll spend this Labor Day weekend with roommates and classmates he’s just beginning to get to know. I imagine he’ll head over to the weight room or the tennis courts, or he’ll join a pick-up game of basketball on the concrete just outside his dorm. He'll play video games, watch ESPN News, and pound out a rhythm on his djembe.
And throughout this new adventure, he'll be challenged to figure out who he is. Whether he needs to be the Pluto of the group ... or the Mickey Mouse ... or the Goofy.
But when he comes home for Fall Break, we’ll spend some quality time together in his bedroom. It’s in dire need of another major re-organization, and this time, I’m anticipating we’ll send more boxes to charity and to the trashcan than to the basement.