This card has beautiful colors from the deep red of the little girl’s footie pajamas to the various shades of green on the tree and bows in her golden curls. She holds a stuffed animal but has plenty of other toys to play with and/or open. This is a Christmas card given to my Aunt Sadie from her grandmother, Anna Marie (Karthaeuser) Repsher.
Unlike the toys of today, the little girl’s toys are fairly low tech. A ball, a jack-in-the-box, a blue, stuffed bunny rabbit. Not a teddy bear. A blue rabbit. Where have I seen that before? A low tech blue rabbit?
Oh, yes, this is the rubber rabbit’s story.
My Aunt Sadie and Dad were both born in the late 1930s, shortly before the start of World War II. Their mom, Beatrice (Gram Strait) was the oldest of eight and she was the first to have children. Her siblings didn’t start their families until after the end of the war. That meant, being the only children in the family for over ten years, Sadie and Billy were the recipients of much attention.
When they were little, they were given various toys by their numerous aunts and uncles. A ceramic Donald Duck showed up with Walt Disney stamped on his behind. Colorful wooden alphabet blocks were used to build towers and castles. Easter presents, one for each of them, were chickens that would crank out wooden eggs. Dad was given a cloth cowboy about 8 to 10 inches tall that had hard, wooden feet. Erector Sets and Lincoln Logs were all the rage and made it under the Christmas Tree for young Billy. One year, older sister Sadie got a beautiful bride doll.
Then there was the rabbit. The rubber rabbit was light blue. It had two yellow wheels but the wheels weren’t round, they were octagonal. It had rolled off the assembly line sometime in the mid-1940s. When the rabbit was shiny and new, it went to live with the Strait family. They lived at 46 Pine Street in a two-story green Victorian that was handsome, well-maintained and not unlike many of the houses in the Newton neighborhoods. The rabbit had a pull-string attached to it between its front legs. Billy and Sadie would drag it around the house, up and down the stairs to the 2nd floor, out to the front porch, and all around the backyard. The rabbit had many miles on it, tagging along behind Sadie and Billy.
Around 1950, the family moved to 43 Lincoln Place. Billy, now called Bill, and Sadie grew up, graduated from high school, and moved out on their own. Over the years, some toys were lost, some were broken, some wore out but a few made it to old age. Gram kept them in the cabinets under the bookcase in the living room.
Dad started his own family and the three Strait sisters (Jodi, Jill, and Jenni) came along. After Sunday lunch at Gram Strait’s house, we would slide open the cabinet doors. My sisters and I would pull out the wooden alphabet blocks, puzzles, decks of pinochle cards, Barbie dolls, and other things. The rubber rabbit was in the cabinet but we hardly ever pulled it out to play with. The rabbit didn’t move around on its own or beep or chirp or have googly eyes. Unlike the blocks and Legos, it couldn’t be used to build anything. It didn’t have lights like the Barbie Dream Car. We never considered how much play time this little rabbit had in its past.
As we got older, Gram made it a point to tell us that the rabbit was valuable since it was now an antique. However, the family was moving apart. Mom and Dad got divorced, Dad had a falling out with Sadie and Gram, and the Strait girls went off to college and struck out on their own.
In the early 2000s, on a visit home, I stopped in at 43 Lincoln Place to see Gram. To my surprise, I was given custody of the rubber rabbit. Wow! I had a valuable antique now. I brought it home to Knoxville, Tennessee, and it took up residence on a bookcase shelf. Unfortunately, my Aunt Sadie was upset to learn that Gram had given the rubber rabbit to me. It was part of her childhood and she felt the toy truly belonged to her. To keep the peace, I sent the rabbit back to New Jersey to Aunt Sadie.
Aunt Sadie kept it for a while until ill health forced her to start thinking about all the “stuff” she had in her house. As a result, my sister Jill currently has the rubber rabbit. We joke that all our inheritance is wrapped up in this truly beat up, dried out, old rubber pull toy which our grandmother assured us was worth a pretty penny but is really just filled with fond, childhood memories.