Cuddly critters become passionate pen pals

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, February 16, 2005

When writing last week's column about my stuffed animals, I never could have anticipated the flood of heartwarming responses I would receive.

People around Cochrane stopped me on the street, at the post office and church, and in coffee and gift shops to chat about my stuffed animals – by name! – and to tell me about their own cuddly critters.

Others – both men and women – sent me e-mails with similar sentiments, such as the note I received from Thelma Rhynas, of Ontario.

Thelma, a regular at our table, captured well the relationship many of you feel with your stuffed animals. She has a stuffed dog, Sasha, a gift from her daughter and named after the Irish Setter/English Springer cross that made them so happy for 16 years. She wrote:

"We enjoy her comforting presence, even at our advanced ages (I'm 76 and my daughter is 43). The pleasure of naming our play animals, talking to and holding them, is good for us, just as yours bring happy memories for you. Again, thank you for bringing smiles tonight – and almost tears, too."

Did she say "tears"? Cochrane writer/linguist Elaine Phillips began her e-mailed response: "Sniff! Beautiful! (I just got up to give my own furry family members a huge hug.)" She invited me to join her for coffee at Java Jamboree.

When I arrived, there at the table with Elaine sat four of her friends: a plump stuffed hippopotamus, a green frog, a sandpiper, and a unicorn. I soon learned that Hroshi the hippo and Evangeline the unicorn are co-authoring a book about their friendship. They seemed to have a special appreciation for my cuddly critters.

Soon after I returned to my writing desk, I received a note from Elaine saying that her furry family enjoyed meeting me at the coffee shop, adding: "When you left, one of them whispered, 'Mom, he looks like Father Christmas!'" She also wondered if it would be okay for Hroshi to correspond with Tatanga Thkan – "TT" for short – my white buffalo buddy.

I agreed and was soon peering between TT's horns as Hroshi's intriguing story scrolled down my screen:

"Dear Tatanga Thkan," the letter began, "My name is Hroshi, and I am a travelling hippopotamus. I read about you (with a growing sense of delight) in 'Coffee with Warren', and I was enchanted to meet Doctor H in person at Java soon after meeting you in print.

"The reason I'm responding to you in particular is simple. The white buffalo was described as 'a powerful symbol of hope,' and therefore you, Tatanga Thkan, now represent hope to those of us who met you through your namesake's words."

Hroshi then told of her own journey of hope from the Czech Republic by way of South Africa to Cochrane, where she now lives "with several quirky cousins (and a couple of humans)."

It was here that she met "the finest friend imaginable: a unicorn angelically named Evangeline." Their friendship blossomed, Hroshi explained enthusiastically.

"Evangeline is passionate, inquisitive, winsome and creative. She inspires me to reach my potential as a hippo, a friend, a writer. In fact, just over a year ago, we began corresponding with each other, and the letters flowed like sweet wine between our two orchards. Now we have more than enough mail to fill a wheelbarrow!"

Hroshi concluded with reference to their soon-to-be-published anthology of letters, simply titled A Hippo and a Unicorn – would TT like a copy? – then signed off with "a hippo-sized hug."

Well, TT wrote right back, and soon they were burning up their keyboards with chatter about all kinds of stuffed-critter stuff, including organizing a meeting of the CCCCC – the Cochrane Cuddly Critter Coffee Companions. But more about that later; I have a feeling we haven't heard the last of Hroshi and TT.

Meanwhile, about my wife Mary Anna's reaction to the surprise lovers' ending to last week's column: When I came to breakfast on Valentine's Day, she presented me with a card featuring two teddy bears snuggled together within a heart. It was addressed simply to her "cuddly companion."

I guess she liked the column, too.

© 2005 Warren Harbeck

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