We have a saying at our house: “Remember the Beanie Baby!”
It’s a sentiment that applies to many situations and none of them have anything to do with collector’s items. Well, not really, except for the incident that engraved that thought on our family’s collective conscience.
The summer of 1998 found our family frolicking about the countryside. Leaving MSH home to fund our travels, the kids and I took off for family reunions, various once a year get-togethers, and just plain hanging out at Grandpa and Grandma’s, both sets. It was a twelve-hour drive, or more with kids, to get there. Then we drove a variety of shorter hops from one relative’s house, to another, to another over the course of three weeks.
To make the trip even more delightful, the AC in the van didn’t work. There’s nothing like having a warm breeze whipping your hair around for half the day, the sound of the wind roaring in your ears, to make it really feel like an endless summer. The back windows only angled out a couple of inches, serving mostly as venting for the hot air being blown through the van. It couldn’t have been very comfortable for the back seat riders. Fortunately, I was the driver.
That year was the tail end of the Great Beanie Baby Craze. McDonald’s had jumped on the hyperactive pellet filled fuzzy critter bandwagon. With each Happy Meal purchased, a Teenie Beanie, miniature version of the originals, could also be bought for $2.
My kids suggested that if we went to a McDonald’s in every town we visited, we’d finally accumulate all the possible Beanie Babies (12) that were available in miniature form. It broke the monotony of all that driving, and gave a sort of treasure hunt mystique to each day. At least they’d end up with one or two of their favorites. We seemed to have good luck with this plan and everyone was happy with his or her new acquisitions, except my youngest daughter.
She coveted Inch the Worm. The bright colors, the squiggly body, the little stitched on eyes, would make her summer completely perfect. Finally, nearing the end of the vacation, we hit the jackpot. We’d down the last Happy Meal we’d ever want to eat and voilà. Inch the Worm was her new best friend.
Inch went everywhere with her, never leaving her hand for a second. The two of them seemed to lead an active fantasy life, where Inch the Worm was quite the little hero.
Inch had a predilection for flying. He especially liked to ride the breezes created by the open back windows in the van.
“You’re going to drop your beanie baby out the window!” my son told her.
“No, I’m not!” she’d counter, obstinately gripping Inch even tighter.
“Don’t say I didn’t warn you,” he muttered back.
That conversation took place, or some iteration of it, multiple times a day. Sometimes it was one of her two older sisters. “That little worm is gonna disappear!” they warned.
Rarely, she would pull Inch back in and rest him on her lap, or in a pocket, or in her backpack. Usually, she just stubbornly kept Inch in the breeze, flying carefree and happy.
Then, the inevitable happened.
You guessed it.
“MOM! Pull over!!” my youngest screamed from the back seat. “I dropped my beanie baby!”
We were racing up a hill going 55 mph, with almost no shoulder to the road, cars packed around us. There was no way and no place to pull over. Even if we did, it would be dangerous and foolhardy. More than likely, the beanie baby would have sailed behind us and been run over, or caught up under a car, or flung about the road like so much garbage.
We had no choice than to simply drive away from the tragic demise of Inch the Worm.
My daughter was distraught. She was sure we’d find him when we drove that road again a day later. Even with Inch’s neon coloring, we never did see tail or nose of him.
Of course, no other McDonald’s in the western United States had any mini beanie babies left by then.
Forever after that sad incident, when someone in the family warned someone else that their behavior was risky, or stupid, or that they ought to listen to the advice they were being given, these famous words would end the argument. “Remember the beanie baby!”
There would be laughter hiding a tiny heartache for what might have been. It was a painful lesson. It was a funny lesson. It was unforgettable.
I’m pretty sure, when my daughter is a grandmother, someone will “remember the beanie baby” and the story of Inch the Worm will live again.