Wednesday, February 18, 2015

let's talk about Beanie Babies.

I’m a little ashamed to admit this, but I, too, was a part of the Beanie Baby craze of the mid-to-late 90s.

Don’t worry: I wasn’t in it for the money. (I was eight. No eight-year-old is in ANYTHING for the money.) I just thought they were super cute.

I wasn’t even aware that Beanie Babies were THE must-have toy until long after everyone else. (Story of my life. I’m fairly terrible at adopting trends.) My cousins from Colorado had Beanie Babies, so I was first introduced to Beanie Babies on a trip to visit said cousins. They had piles of Beanie Babies in their rooms, and I thought the Beanie Babies were cute and cuddly and oh look they come with names and birthdays and why don’t I own them ALL?

My first Beanie Baby came from my Grandma Lorraine and Grandpa Harvey. Back when the Brookings mall housed Cover to Cover, we’d go there on occasion to browse the books or to look at the fun giftware they sold. Eventually, Cover to Cover started carrying Beanie Babies. One Easter, my brother, sister, and I all got a Beanie Baby from Grandma and Grandpa. I don’t recall dropping great big hints about Beanie Babies to my grandparents, so they must’ve caught onto the trend.

My first Beanie Baby was a black and white dog named Spot.
(In my extensive research for this story – also known as Wikipedia – I found out that Spot was one of nine original Beanie Babies released in 1993.) At the time, we had a real dog named Spot (who was unspotted), so I’m sure this was the inspiration behind this particular Beanie Baby. Spot came with a little tag clipped to his ear that informed me of his name and birth date. (If my memory serves me correctly, Spot had the same birthday as my dad: January 3. It was meant to be.)

During Beanie Baby 101 at my cousins’ house in Colorado, I was informed that the absolute most important number one Beanie Baby owning rule is to make sure that those tags are NEVER removed from your Beanie Babies. That tag is how you know that you have a 100% authentic Beanie Baby, and without that tag, the value will plummet. From the day I got my first Beanie Baby, I was borderline obsessive: not one of my tags was ever removed, and I even bought those stupid heart-shaped plastic tag protectors for my favorite Beanie Babies’ tags. How ridiculous.

Spot was just the first of many Beanie Babies yet to come. My second Beanie Baby came from my Great Aunt Ruth and Great Uncle Orin: the grandparents of the cousins with all the Beanie Babies. They gave me a little white unicorn, and I spent years convinced that my unicorn was much more valuable than any other unicorns: my unicorn had a brown horn while all the other unicorns had iridescent sparkly horns. My unicorn was special.
(Note: I have never actually cared enough to look this up – if my brown-horned unicorn is somehow more special than the iridescent-horned unicorn. I still don’t care enough to look it up.)

The older I got, the more Beanie Babies I wanted. After all, new Beanie Babies were being released all the time, with each generation cuter than the last. And I was on a never-ending search for a Beanie Baby that shared my birthday. (Note: I never found one on my own, but with my aforementioned extensive research – Wikipedia – I learned that Quackers the Duck has the same birthday as me.)

Every Christmas and birthday list contained a special Beanie Baby section. I had dogs (a terrier, a pug, a dachshund), cats (a calico, a Siamese, a cougar), birds (a flamingo, a penguin, an ostrich, a cardinal, a hummingbird), various bears, a star spangled elephant (back when I thought I’d grow up to be a Republican – thankfully, I grew out of THAT), a butterfly, a walrus, a jellyfish, a rhino… it was a whole menagerie.
Did you know that there was even such a thing as a
Beanie Baby jellyfish?
On occasion, I’d save up enough allowance to buy a Beanie Baby at an arts festival. I could never afford to buy one in a store, but there was usually a bit of room for negotiating if the vendor had a booth in a flea market or something. I bought the coolest Beanie Baby dragon at Prairie Village Days in Madison – it had red crinkly wings and was this cool textured brown color. 
I’d like to say that I spent ten dollars on it, which was a fortune in 1996 Calla dollars. The other Beanie Baby I clearly remembered buying at such an event was the commemorative Princess Diana bear. 
Why I felt inclined to buy this particular Beanie Baby, I do not know. It was very pretty with its deep purple color and embroidered rose, but I was ten when Princess Diana died and don’t recall feeling any sort of special attachment to her. What I do remember is that the vendor wouldn’t take any less than twelve dollars for this Beanie Baby. Since I had spent so much on it, the Princess Diana bear merited one of my plastic tag protectors.

I sought out Beanie Babies not just in the regular size, but in the Teeny size and jumbo size, as well. I had one big Beanie Baby: it was a super-soft penguin that I bought when my Colorado cousin and I did chores for Ruth and Orin (her grandparents, my great aunt and uncle) so that we could each earn enough money to buy a stuffed animal from the Index in downtown Brookings. (Fun fact: that penguin was also twelve dollars, which made me question why I the purple Diana bear – significantly smaller and not nearly as soft – was the same price.)

The Teeny Beanies came in Happy Meals, and lucky for me, I hadn’t quite aged out of the Happy Meal bracket. If I couldn’t get the Teeny Beanie I wanted via a Happy Meal, I found that these were quite affordable at craft shows and flea markets. (The key was to look for one in its original plastic McDonalds packaging. Then you knew you had a good one.) I had a whole other zoo of Teeny Beanies: a red bull, more penguins, a lobster. But three sizes of Beanie Baby weren’t enough for me: oh no. At a craft show in Arlington, I bought teeny tiny clay renderings of the penguin Beanie Baby and the Princess Diana bear Beanie Baby – they even had teeny tiny red tags. While not official Beanie Babies (after all, they were melted-looking things that were crafted by some ambitious South Dakotan), I still considered them part of my collection.

It was inevitable that I would grow out of Beanie Babies, and sure enough, I did. I got rid of a bunch of them – not by selling them and making a fortune (ha!), but by donating them to Goodwill or the church rummage sale. I kept a few of the especially cute ones, like the dragon and the flamingo and the teeny lobster. (Who can resist a teeny lobster?) 
Not me.
And there is a leopard Beanie Baby that rides around in my car – I saw it sitting sad and alone at a Sioux Falls Goodwill and for some reason could not leave without it. James bought it for me, and it is awfully cute. This second-hand leopard never did have its red Beanie Baby tag, and as it turns out, that doesn’t matter at all. I just don’t know its name and birthday.
(Extensive research note: Wikipedia tells me that the leopard’s name is Freckles and its birthday is June 3, 1996. We can all breathe a sigh of relief now that the mystery is solved.) 

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