Snowball

Is there a childhood toy that stands out in your memory? For me, that’s Snowball.

He’s one of my first experiences with loss.

*******

Kindergarten. Show-and-Tell. It is my favorite part of the day and today I am especially excited: I’ve brought Snowball, my toy dog. He sleeps with me every night, he eats with me, he does everything with me except take a bath, because Mama says that will ruin him.

This is Snowball, I tell my friends, sitting in a circle on the rug for Show-and-Tell.

I hold him up.

Oooooos and aaaahhhhs, because Snowball is so beautiful. His yellow ears and tail are made of ‘real’ fur. One ear has a little bit of ketchup on it from falling into my plate while I was eating fries. His stuffed body is woolly white, which is why I’ve named him Snowball.

I tell my friends: I saw him on a shelf at the store and Grandma bought him.

They all want to hold him and stroke his silky ears.

When recess comes, I decide to take Snowball out to the playground.

We have a really tall sliding board on our playground. It’s red and silver, not so shiny.

We take turns. I hand Snowball to a friend and climb, climb, climb to the top of the slide. Whoosh! It’s almost too fast, but SO fun. I make sure to hold my feet high for sailing over the mud puddle at the bottom, that worn-out place made by many, many feet landing there.

An idea: Snowball should have a turn.

Hey, Snowball wants to slide! I say.

My friends hop up and down. Let him slide! Let him slide!

Susan E. is standing beside me. When I climb up and I let him go, you catch him for me, I tell her.

I will! says Susan E. She moves toward the bottom of the slide.

I walk around to the tall, tall ladder. You will LOVE this! I tell Snowball. I give him a squeeze.

I climb, climb, climb, hanging onto the rail with one hand, onto Snowball with the other.

At the landing, I call down to Susan E.:

Are you ready?

Yes! She leans over the puddle with her hands held out.

I’m gonna count to three and let him go!

Okay! Susan E. shouts up.

One

two

three…

here he comes!

I release him.

Snowball slides so fast, so much faster than me…bumpity-bump…

Susan! calls a friend from the sandbox.

Susan E. turns her head.

—Susan! I cry from the top of the slide.

But it’s too late.

NOOOOOO!

With a soft splash, Snowball lands in the mud puddle.

—SNOWBALL! I slide down like a crazy person, scrambling, clawing…

Susan E. stands there, frozen. Then I’m sorry! I’m sorry!

I lift Snowball out of the puddle. He’s soaked through. His woolly white body is gray-brown; dirty water drips from his beautiful silky ears. They’re flat against his head, silky no more.

Sobbing, I carry him back to the classroom. I wrap and wrap him in paper towels. I cry the whole walk home after school.

Mama, I think. Mama will fix him.

When I get home, I pull the wet paper towels off to show her Snowball’s mushy, muddy body.

Honey, I can’t fix him, she says. He is ruined.

ruined

ruined

ruined

—Can’t you just put him in the washer and dryer? I am crying so hard that I can hardly speak.

It is my fault.

my fault

my fault

She shakes her head. He’s not meant to be washed that way. He’d probably come apart.

She says we have to throw him away.

I beg, I cry, but Mama says there isn’t any choice. It has to be done.

I wrap Snowball back in the muddy paper towels. I hold him close one last time, shaking with terribleness. I am sorry, Snowball. I am so sorry. I will always love you.

I lay him in the trashcan.

I cry in my bed all night long. Snowball is not there, will never be there again, to comfort me.

*******

Is it childish that, five decades later, writing the memory, I still cry...

I once drew him for students during writing workshop, when they asked if I had a picture. Even the ketchup on his ear.

*******

The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 19, I am writing around a word beginning with letter s.

38 thoughts on “Snowball

    • I had forgotten all about poor Snowball until writing workshop with second-graders some years back; I was giving examples of things you can use for from your own life to write realistic fiction. This is the first time I’ve written it in first person as my own memory … the emotion really does come flooding back. Thank you so much for these words from the heart.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Tell dear Jack not to take Shadow sliding-!! Pajama day is so cute. I don’t usually end slices on a sad note, although the experience was so terribly sad to my small self. But: I’d forgotten about Snowball until one day when I was teaching realistic fiction in a second grade class, explaining that you can use experiences and dialogue from your own life … and Snowball returned to mind. I used it to create a mentor text about a character who has been wanting a real dog; after her toy is ruined, her dad gets her the dog. There’s the happy ending for you, Ramona!

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  1. That’s so sweet and sad. I had a panda bear stuffed animal when I was younger. His name was Panda. I loved him, and I took such good care of him. He stayed clean, and he stayed in my room until I moved out. I forgot about Panda over the years, and I remember asking my mom about him. She eventually got him out the basement, and I was thrilled!! He was clean, but I had to sew him up a little on his back. I gave him to Madison and told her to take care of him. A few months ago, I found him on the floor in her closet so I kidnapped Panda, and now he’s in my bathroom sitting high on the cabinet, and that’s where he’ll stay. Panda can’t be disrespected. 🐼

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  2. I think it is ok to cry after so long. He was a part of your childhood. I remember my granddaughter, Her teddy bear, Coco and few other dolls were her constant companions in play school. She is in kindergarten now. Earlier, our grandson took toys to kindergarten but due to Covid restrictions she cannot take her toys. They live in Germany.

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    • Sad to think of kids not being able to take their toys to kindergarten. I’d forgotten about Snowball for many years until I was teaching writing in second grade and talking about how we can use things from real life to write realistic fiction – then I remembered him. The kids wanted to know all about him. This is the first time I’ve written of him as memoir – to preserve that memory. Many thanks for your words!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh the sadness, oh what a tragedy. I almost couldn’t believe that Snowball wasn’t washable and that your friend looked the other way at that precious moment! I never had a toy that I treasured that much and I understand the depth of your feeling.

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    • I have a friend who is lamenting that he had to be thrown away and that my mother didn’t TRY to wash him, lol! He was honestly pretty nasty. Poor Snowball. I was mad at Susan E. (I recall her full name to this day) for a while but it really wasn’t her fault and I knew it. Young kids just can’t see possible consequences… many thanks for reading and for this heartfelt response!

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  4. No, not childish at all. I teared up reading it. I can imagine your horror and genuine pain. Poor Snowball; poor you. I was hoping mom could fix him, but the “real fur” was the problem. Loved this slice of life.

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    • That beautiful, butter-yellow “real” fur WAS the problem, ruined forever, and I am not even sure what Snowball was stuffed with. Could have been sawdust or something. I am glad you enjoyed the slice … it was devastating at the time. On a happier note, when I recalled him years later while teaching writing in second grade, and worked him into a story, it was rewarding to see how interested the kids became. They had a bazillion questions about Snowball and so understood the loss. Suddenly the memory became a treasure – this is the first time I’ve written it as memoir.

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  5. Five decades later and your memory is so vivid, Fran. This is an endearing story. My son had a little blue stuffed animal and he slept on it throughout childhood. It is flat now but we kept it for the memory. I am wondering if he is hiding in one of the boxes we packed. Your story would make a great mentor text. Love your illustration that accompanies the story.

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    • I hope you find that little flat animal, Carol! As to this being a mentor text: one day I was teaching realistic fiction in a second grade class and was explaining that you can use experiences and dialogue from your own life … and Snowball returned to mind. I pulled it into a story about a character who has been wanting a real dog – after her toy is ruined, her dad gets her the dog. This is the first time I’ve written is as the actual memory – all sparked by thinking what to write for my letter “S”. I’d really settled on something else and changed it, on remembering Snowball.

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    • So… I eventually forgot about Snowball for many years. Then one day I was teaching realistic fiction in a second grade class and was explaining that you can use experiences and dialogue from your own life … and Snowball returned to mind. I used it in a mentor text for a main character who has been wanting a real dog – after her toy is ruined, her dad gets her the dog. There’s the happy ending people have wanted here, lol. But I remembered he pain, the disbelief that he couldn’t be fixed. It was deep grief for a five-year-old. “S” brought Snowball back once again, so now I tell it as memoir for the first time. Many thanks for your heartfelt reply!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never seen another toy dog like him, with that kind of “real,” soft fur on his ears & tail. I eventually forgot about him for the longest time; the memory returned when I was writing with second graders and talking about using things from your own life in realistic fiction. Then I remembered the great sadness, that he couldn’t be saved. Thank you for reading his little story!

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  6. You take us to the moment of heartbreak. Your love for Snowball is evident and felt by readers. To lose him was a tragedy. When the heart hurts like that and we grieve a loss, that’s real and tough. Something about those childhood memories of pain and loss that are so vivid and resilient to time.

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    • For a while I tried to be mad at Susan E. (we had two Susans and I cannot recall the other’s last name, but I sure recall Susan E.!). But I knew it was my own fault. Kindergarten tragedy, alas. So deeply felt, yes. Many thanks for reading and for these words.

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  7. As soon as you hit the slide, I just knew SOMETHING was going to happen – to you, to Snowball – OH! so much can happen in an instant on the playground. And – do I think it’s childish to get emotional all over again when you recount this story? Hmmm. Here’s what I’d say. You are in TOUCH with the thoughts and the feelings you had as a child. The children in your life, wherever and whoever they are, will admire that in you.

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    • Yes – reliving that walk in my childhood shoes brought it all flooding back. The power of writing. Snowball has appeared in mentor texts I’ve modeled for realistic fiction (using real experiences from your own life) and kids have been so interested in him and his demise. Finally decided to write it as it happened, as best I can recall. And poor Susan E.! She has no idea that she’ll live forever in infamy!

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      • Ha! For me that childhood story friend is Charis, co-conspirator in The Great Banana Fight of 1978! As for why your kids love Snowball stories, it’s probably because you tell them with a perspective that still seems fresh and relevant to them. At least…I’m just guessing.

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  8. Agreed, tears are totally warranted! You have such amazing pacing with this piece and had me at the edge of my seat, screaming, “Don’t do it, don’t let Snowball on that slide!” The repetition really made me feel this story. No wonder students want to know more. They are as sucked in to the storyline as your reader.

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    • How I love this visual of you screaming at the story-me, climbing that ladder with Snowball – I hoped a sense of suspense would come across. This response is a treasure to me – thank you, Cindy!

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  9. That ending is on level with Where the Red Fern Grows for me. My heart broke when I read the word ruined over and over. Much like yours probably did too when you heard it .And it’s perfectly warranted to cry five decades later. The moment I would’ve been told he had to be thrown away I would’ve hit the floor sobbing harder.

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    • Where the Red Fern Grows… heaven above…I remember my first reading around age 12 and how I nearly didn’t survive. I cried for two weeks. Here’s the thing – I really don’t cry easily. My little heart WAS broken, though, on learning Snowball was past hope; reliving the memory caused a breaking again, on multiple levels…I am so sorry it broke yours yet I am deeply grateful to know, dear Anna Maria. Thank you! ❤

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  10. Oh, the loss of a precious toy, coupled with the guilt…I can understand those tears falling again. I have cried over leaving my baby’s toy animal, picked out by his sister, at a highway rest stop. (He was too young to even notice…I still feel the guilt.) I am so sorry Snowball couldn’t be cleaned and kept, though I am guessing you were overly protective of your toys for awhile after his accident.

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    • Goodness, I think that would be harder, leaving your baby’s toy behind like this. I do recall, in the post-Snowball years, a stuffed collie dog that actually had a little radio inside – flip him over and there were the knobs. I rode a ferry with him in my arms, holding onto him like grim death, thinking of him falling overboard into the water. He was beautiful but I cannot recall his name now, or even what became of him.

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  11. This is such a moving memory … and no, it is not strange at all that you still cried while writing about it. The repetition of the words after Snowball fell into the puddle… ruined, ruined, ruined, my fault, my fault, my fault was very, very effective. In addition, the whole story was so realistic and detailed (if one knows kids) that you can see it happening as you describe it! Well done, Fran, well done! And, hugs to you as well.

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