Voilà: Buzz LeClair

by Christine Adams Beckett

A Berber woman from Marrakech introduced my son to Buzz Lightyear, igniting the spark of a love affair that would last years, and in some respects, endures.  We were staying in a hotel in the middle of what appeared to be a dessert oasis, the Palmeraie, where thousands of palm trees sprout from the sands in the foreground of the Atlas Mountains and the windy dirt roads that lead to the souks in Marrakech proper stretch in the opposite direction.  We spent our days exploring the souk, or wandering the grounds of the hotel, which covered acres, and contained garden beds of fruits and vegetables and aromatic herbs, and flowering varieties of plants like bougainvillea and jasmine.

Those that worked at the hotel were quick to recognize my son’s passions, and before we knew it, one of the gardeners took a sort of ownership of our boy, taking him after breakfast al fresco to search for grasshoppers.  These jumpers were enormous: 6 inches long at least, and thrilled my 4 year-old, allowing for leasurely breakfasts every morning of that unforgettable vacation.

We were barraged by brilliant color, the Islamic calls to prayer, the roasted goat meat on the spits near the mint tea sellers: a regular sensory overload for the children; so we took advantage of the hotel’s babysitting service, and left the two in a well-appointed play room with baskets of toys, shelves of books in French and Arabic and even a television set with DVD Player.  We were off to meet with a guide to see the monuments, to buy a small rug as a souvenir and even meet the guide’s family in their home.  We ate lunch — mounds of cous cous — in the courtyard of a typical Moroccan French colonial house, and wondered what the children were doing with the amiable woman in the impeccably white head scarf back in the Palmeraie.

Drooling in front of the tube television set, mesmerized by a French version of Toy Story, my son didn’t even look up when we arrived back at the hotel in a somewhat frantic state that comes from being separated from young children for five minutes too long.  He was draped lovingly over our Berber friend, with a jar of enormous grasshoppers under his arm.

He talked about the story for months afterwards, wowed by a house (with staircases, the bedrooms on another floor!) and gardens in which to play.  It was a foreshadowing of our suburban lifestyle to come, where he was convinced that all toys come to life when absent from their child owners.

Upon our return to our Paris apartment, my sister-in-law who lived in Wisconsin was kind enough to bestow upon us an English speaking Buzz, which followed us everywhere for the next several years.  Buzz saw many corners of medieval France, Italy and England.  He would announce at almost every port of call, embarrassingly, that “there seems to be no signs of intelligent life here…”

When Buzz moved to New Jersey three years later, his “Andy” was thrilled to learn that not only had the REAL Buzz Lightyear (AKA Buzz Aldrin) lived in his town, but he also attended his elementary school, Edgemont.  We pulled the news story about how he returned one day in 2005 to read his Reaching for the Moon, a children’s book about Aldrin’s magnificently desolate walk on the moon.

Eventually, my son moved on to Star Wars and Star Trek, and Buzz LeClair (as he is called in French) gradually took a backseat to the more age appropriate intergalactic diversions.  And just like Andy in the third of the Toy Story Trilogy, my son one day decided to bequeath his Buzz on another.  Buzz was stashed in a box in our basement for the past three years or so, seemingly bound for the next AmVets collection, but a few months ago, my son reported to me that there is a boy in his class with Autism who adores Toy Story, finds murmuring its dialogue comforting, favors a Woody T-shirt above all others, and is seemingly a much more deserving Andy for our Buzz.  He packed him in his back pack bound for his 6th grade pal that morning, and seemed very pleased about the decision.

He returned home later that afternoon, when I asked him how his presentation went.

“Turns out, he hates Buzz,” my son said, his voice cracking.  A 12 year-old trying to swallow tears is particularly painful, so I grabbed him and hugged him before he could protest.  He explained the violent outburst he created in his autistic classmate, while trying to bestow his formerly beloved Buzz.  I assured him that the thought is what counted, the kind intent of his gesture.

He left the well-travelled Buzz on the kitchen table and sulked out, and I was left wondering what to do with the toy.  It seemed as though I should put him back in the basement to avoid my boy having to relive a painfully embarrassing moment, but the day got away with me, the toddler had to be held, the soup had to be stirred, the dog had to be fed.  It wasn’t until the next day that I realized Buzz had landed back in my son’s room, where he remains: sometimes on the book shelf, sometimes on his bed, often on the floor.  I suspect he might have just landed there, quickly assuming a state of suspended animation, as he heard my footsteps approach the door in search of a basket of dirty laundry.