The Tragic Tale of Flat Stanley

The following is a true story. Only the facts have been changed to protect the guilty.

His name was Stanley…Flat Stanley. He came to us in the mail, which is an unusual way for a visitor to arrive. He was around eight inches tall and paper thin. He was quiet, but he smiled a lot. In fact, he smiled no matter how tough his life got. And it did get tough.  

 Flat Stanley is a paper doll based on a children’s book by Jeff Brown. In the story, Stanley Lambchop is flattened by a bulletin board, but he makes the most of his new physique. When he and his brother fly kites, he’s the kite. He slips under doors into locked rooms, and he travels by mail to visit friends. And he travels a lot because stamps are cheaper than airline tickets.

Maybe you’ve hosted Stanley yourself. Classrooms everywhere use Flat Stanley paper cutouts in educational projects. Students send him to friends or relatives and after his visit, hosts return him with a journal and photographs of his adventures. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

My niece the kindergarten teacher sent Stanley to us shortly before Christmas. He came without a stitch of clothing so our first job was to dress him. My husband colored him with magic markers and we set off to show him our life.

We photographed Stanley at every stop we made along our eight-hour drive to visit relatives. We got some curious looks from other tourists when Stanley and I posed next to an interstate rest stop, but Stanly wasn’t embarrassed.

Once we arrived at my in-laws’, we showed him the sites in their town. He had the time of his life, though he never actually said so.

The first clue that we weren’t cut out to be host parents might have been when I dropped Stanley face down in the snow during a photoshoot. He wasn’t hurt, but the ink on his shirt smeared. I felt horrible, but he didn’t seem to mind.

Then we forgot him in the car on Christmas day. He was alone, cold and hungry while we sat inside eating traditional Scandinavian fare. But he never complained. Maybe he doesn’t like lefse and lutefisk any more than I do.

Over New Year’s weekend we traveled to visit my family. Again, we photographed Stanley at every stop along the way. He’s very photogenic, except on windy days.

The museum we visited was filled with great photo ops. Stanley posed by statues, animals, and various modes of transportation. And that’s when tragedy struck.

Stanley had posed debonairly against the window of an antique car, but just before we could snap photos, he lost his balance and fell into the crack between the door and the window. Someone screamed, but I don’t think it was Stanley.

Just like that, he became part of the museum’s permanent collection, but a part that will never be seen again, unless there’s another sequel to Night at the Museum.

I was devastated. But my relatives, clearly better hosts than we are, came to the rescue. They enlarged one of the photos we’d taken and printed a new Stanley. And it’s actually better, though I’d never say that to the old one. He’s on card stock so he’s sturdier. And they used a photo taken before the snow mishap, so his shirt isn’t smeared. Plus, they made us a couple of spares, just in case.  

When we write up the notes about Flat Stanley’s visit we’ll leave out the parts where he suffered, and the new Stanley probably won’t mention them either. Among his many fine qualities is that he’s very discreet.

When he arrives at his kindergarten later this month, the students may not even realize he’s a clone. He looks a little taller than he was when he left and he’s definitely stronger. Hard times will do that to you. So will card stock.