In the fall of 1999, my grandmother Frances Mackin came to visit us. She was 97 years old. In her suitcase was a special treat: her cherished childhood toy, Perky. Her desire had always been to give Perky to her first great granddaughter. She was about to turn this desire into a reality.
On the day Perky was bestowed to Frances’ Great Granddaughter, Annie, she told our family the story of how she had originally acquired Perky. Annie listened in awe.
In 1904, Frances’ parents, Fred Henry and Amelia Meyer, traveled from Sturgis, SD to attend the St. Louis World’s Fair. While at the fair they saw Richard Steiff and his aunt selling stuffed bears. They decided to purchase one of the little mohair bears as a gift for their two-year-old little daughter. They had no idea that Steiff would go on to become a world-famous toymaker.
As she continued to speak, Frances reflected back that she must have dearly loved Perky because she hardly ever played with him. And when she did, she handled him with extreme care. It is obvious that this is true because over one hundred years later, Perky shows very few signs of damage that might otherwise have been seen in a child’s stuffed animal.
Perky is about one foot high with soft, light brown mohair fur, black shoe button eyes and is filled from the top of his ears to the bottom of his feet with something similar to straw called excelsior. He has beige felt paws and a hand-sewn brown thread nose. He also has a small squeaker that allows him to make little chirps when the middle of his tummy is gently pressed. That was quite the technological breakthrough back in 1904!
But in my opinion, the sweetest thing about Perky is his indomitable smile! That smile has stayed firm for 107 years now.
Chapter Two: 2011
In fact, Perky’s smile seems to be even bigger these days. A new chapter in Perky’s long life has begun. Annie is now all grown up and has become a mommy herself. Annie decided that her one and only daughter, Emily, age three and a half, should now take possession of Perky. Who else could love a stuffed bear with such a history?
I have no doubt that Perky will continue to get the love and attention that he’s gotten for so many years. Together, Emily and Perky will create their own stories and make their own memories.
There are many things that bond children, their parents, and their grandparents. If Fred and Amelia could only see how their small purchase in 1904 continues to connect our family 107 years later. Perky isn’t just a little bear. He’s a symbol of love, continuity, and stability for four generations. What a treat.
What is your family heirloom story? Who are the people through the years in your family who have cherished a particular family keepsake?
Tell us all about how you came to possess your family heirloom. We’d love to hear from you.