A Monster in Sag Harbor

Written By: Diane Ghioto

In the Fall of 2015, in Sag Harbor, I created a monster.

Or, I should say, I helped create a monster, because after all, it wasn’t my idea. I could never have concocted something so genius in it’s simplicity; something that would create such a stir in our community, or affect so many with its noble purpose. To be honest, it was my two young daughters’ slightly far-fetched and hair-brained scheme… so naturally, being the loyal and supportive mother that I am, I just went along with the whole thing, assuming my usual role as “worthy accomplice.”

Whether or not you realize it, a awful lot goes into creating a monster. It’s a little bit mad-scientist, a bit of physics, a smattering of geometry, a whole lot of kinetic energy, and sheer imagination and determination. Major decisions had to be made before we could even embark on putting all the pieces together—namely, we had to reach a consensus on what those pieces would actually be. Take, for instance: Would our monster be scary or friendly? Would it be covered in fur or scales? Spikes or bumps? How many arms and legs would it have? And finally, what would we call it?

After days and nights of hard deliberation, the three of us finally agreed that our monster would be a nice one (“nice,” as monsters go, I suppose) and that its personality would be kinda likable—you know, a garden-variety monster of the “friendly, non-threatening” ilk, but one with a slightly-edgy nature. We visualized that said monster would be covered in long turquoise fur, with big goggly eyes, a gaping open mouth, and eager outstretched arms. With these critical decisions behind us, we three immediately set out to work.

Soon afterwards, reams of colored fur arrived at the house, and were ceremoniously unrolled on the basement laboratory floor. Supplies were laid out, operating-room style, as giant cardboard boxes gave way under the pressure of our scissors and Exacto-knives. Hours went by as we feverishly cut and re-shaped, stapled and taped to eventually re-fashion a creature with ears and arms. From these humble beginnings, a shape took form and our excitement grew. Masks were donned, and protective bonnets came out of their packages as we wielded the spray-adhesive to stick every last bit of turquoise fur into place. Finally, the monster came to life when given animated eyes, and right away, an endearing countenance began to emerge.

We stood back and examined our handiwork. “It’s a masterpiece!”, my 8 year-old daughter Nola cried out, with a level of self-satisfaction that pulled at my heart. “I knew we would love him! He’s a cuddle-monster! And he’s going to be friends with everybody, so let’s name him Buddy!” Marina, her 10 year-old sister, agreed and added, “And you know what? He looks hungry!” Thus, Buddy the Cuddle-monster was born.

Now it should be pointed out that Buddy wasn’t just any old ordinary monster. He was born with a job to do. You see, earlier—when Buddy was but a mere twinkle in the eyes of my girls, while we were cleaning out our clothes closets one day and removing all the outgrown coats and jackets, Nola mentioned that she wished she had someone to give hers to. Being the youngest, she observed that she was pretty much the end-of-the-line in our family when it came to bequeathing treasured clothing items. And she was sure that other families had the same thing happening in their closets.

What to do? She and Marina imagined a fun way for kids to donate their outgrown coats to other kids who need them. The kids would feed their coats to a monster! After all, what’s more fun than feeding a monster?
I couldn’t argue with them. They were on to something.

A couple of weeks later, amidst a gaggle of curious stares, a blur of conspicuous blue fur made it’s way through town, and our Buddy arrived at Sag Harbor Elementary School in the back of a friend’s pick-up truck. The following day, with much fanfare, Buddy was introduced to the students by Matt Malone, the school’s principal. Matt outlined Buddy’s whole raison d’etre: To gobble-up coats of all sizes, donated by kids, for kids who needed them to stave off the cold. Buddy’s slogan was “Share the Warmth,” and his appetite was insatiable.

Kids lined-up each day to feed Buddy their treasured, too-small coats. They met their monster with excited smiles and exaggerated hugs, like greeting a department store Santa Claus. Squeals and laughter surrounded their favorite resident “monster on a mission.” Huge bags were hauled away and sorted. A feel-good atmosphere developed as the days went by, and Buddy developed nothing short of a cult-of-personality among the students and beyond.

Buddy the Cuddlemonster collected over 200 coats for The Retreat that first year, and even more when he came back for a second year. He has indeed fulfilled his continuing mission to “spread the warmth.”

But for me, all through this sweet endeavor, Buddy’s mission has been crystal clear.
In an enclave such as this, where the norms of privilege are super-sized, it can be difficult sometimes to really impress upon children that many kids aren’t quite as fortunate. Buddy and his generous spirit has helped me to show my girls what I believe to be true: That sharing is not only our honor and our moral obligation, but it makes you feel good inside. And, perhaps most important of all, our hungry monster was the perfect guy to teach that the best way to show our gratitude is by giving, and by spreading love and warmth however you can.

All this. Starting with something as simple as an outgrown coat.
Imagine that.