Thursday, October 6, 2011

If I Were a Figurine

Lately I’ve been obsessed with finding animal figurines in second hand stores. I seek out the Schleich ones in particular because they are so beautifully painted, have some serious weight to them and actually look like the animals they are meant to represent.

After my mid-week delivery, when my van pulls away 1000 pounds lighter I sometimes try to catch a friend for a coffee, slip off to a movie or do a little shopping to sow my city oats. At the end of my run, I also enjoy looking for my little Schleich animals in the place I lovingly refer to as the dumpstore, Value Village. The universe and I have been playing a game (pardon me for bringing the universe into my petty folly).

Here is the strange thing. For many, many months, every single week, I have found one Schleich animal hanging on the wall where the sea of little plastic fast food meal rejects usually hang in bags. Each week I find a different animal. Never a duplicate. Always just one. I can count on one hand how many weeks I have not found any. The same goes for the times there has been more than one.

One day, my children and I cut down a small alder tree to build a shelf for ‘our’ animals. Naturally, the children believe these toys are for them and because I’m a good mother, I’m willing to share.

I have always been a serious collector. For as long as I can remember I have amassed things of a designated kind that mean something to me. Although the focus has been ever-shifting (from Princess Diana wedding paraphernalia to stainless steel kitchen gadgets) the momentum is always there to stockpile.

From the outside looking in I think people who do this kind of thing are odd, if only just difficult to understand. It is also interesting for me to observe people with no collecting tendency whatsoever. I don’t know what compels me but believe me when I tell you that I am compelled.

The irony is not lost on me that at this time where I have grown exceptionally tired of caring for all of the living animals around me, I take solace in plastic replicas of cows, pigs, elephants, kangaroos... If only I had one less live kangaroo to care for, my life would be so much easier.

So this week was a little different. Here is what I found (made by Schleich).

First Settler Lady

I took her home because I didn’t want to offend the universe but between you and me I thought a cruel joke was being played. I almost asked to speak to the manager of the store. This is not an animal.

What is kind of funny is that this summer I have taken to wearing a knee-length flowy blue skirt to do my chores. I have been on my knees in the greenhouse in my skirt, hopped over electric fences, chased cows home from the neighbours. I suppose I like wearing it because it makes me feel slightly feminine amidst all of the dirt and sweat. I would also cook in this skirt, and be able to wear it (if not covered with too much pig slobber) to the grocery store or day care to pick up my children on days when there was little time to change.

In my mind I pictured a woman much like my little figurine woman, a hundred years ago, settling into a piece of land, milking a cow, carrying buckets around, kneading bread. All the while wearing a long skirt. Who in their right mind figures that a skirt like this is practical for barn chores? I do, I suppose. Given the choice, I had chosen the skirt. (Can’t say I went floor length, however).

There have been many days where I moved around this place imagining myself as a little farm fairy, flitting about in all of the corners unseen. In my sprightly state, I would pop inside to grab a bite to eat or use the washroom and catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Where my mind’s eye had imagined a bright, windswept mane of hair in a ponytail or in wisps around my face, the mirror showed something quite different.

What had once been a neat, high, tight mass of clean, collected hair became a fallen mass of dusty, disheveled strings plastered to my sweaty face and lumped at the base of my neck. I had the dowdy farm wife look just like my little plastic lady here. Perhaps this look was a real hit a hundred years ago. But I know for sure that you wouldn’t catch any of our movie idols with such a ‘do’. And much to my own chagrin, I seem to sport this look more often than I’d like to admit.

So what am I to do with this little lady? Does she go on my shelf with the other animals? Is this a sign to overhaul my work outfit? Fix my hair once in a while? I have to be honest with you. I despise this woman. She is everything I believe women have worked so hard for to avoid being. Subservient. Ready to do whatever is asked of her from whatever size of animal or person. Never to shine. Never to draw too much attention to herself.

Yet on the other hand, I idolize her. I am so impressed with what she was able to endure. So much hardship, it seems. So much relentless work and likely with ne’er a complaint. My grandmother was this woman. Still carrying water from a well to the house in buckets when my mother had first met my father in the late 1960’s and into the 70’s she carried on doing this.

I can’t help but wonder what my plastic woman is looking for. Perhaps something to look forward to since she just turned 40. Have her children run off across the pasture? Is her husband expected to return home from the fields? Is there a storm brewing on the horizon and she has to bring in her laundry? Have her cows hopped the fence again?

I don’t think I work anywhere near as hard as women did a hundred years ago. And yet I think I complain enough to cover a continent and a century. I have so many luxuries available to me. Affordable childcare, for one. A vehicle or two at my disposal, filled with gas, despite exorbitant gas prices. My health and strength. Good friends, excellent family. Hot water inside my house. Free healthcare! Seriously!

As projection is impossible to avoid, I actually imagine that she is searching for her identity. She is looking to find herself in something outside of her. She is looking for approval. For recognition or appreciation. She has forgotten how to find solace in the quiet things. She is looking for a guide.

You know, if I’m honest, I would admit that anyone who looks to find fulfillment in a retail establishment is going to be severely disappointed. Though, I always do it, week after week. And the satisfaction is there, though fleeting. It stays while I stand in line to purchase my animal of the week. But it leaves as quickly as it arrives and I am looking towards the next hunt.

From another angle, however, I have to admit that the diversity of my collection of animals brings me joy and some comfort too. Perhaps I am searching for my totem in the form of a personal animal guide. Rather than just one, I see a little bit of myself in all of them. Which is why I think it is especially important that whoever painted them (in China, not Germany anymore, it would appear), was able to take the time to paint their eyes in the proper place so their face is not unintentionally frightening.

Each animal holds an expression frozen in time. Perhaps they are holding one of their young. Perhaps they are yawning and displaying enormous teeth, mid-gallop or leap, lying down to take a rest, preparing to fight, or looking for a mate.

I think I will put my little lady on my shelf of animals. Perhaps she can be yet another guide for me, reminding me that my life is ever so much easier than it was for a woman 100 years ago. Advising me how to do the things that our culture has so significantly forgotten. Telling me that skirts don’t work well around electric fences. And that it wouldn’t be a bad idea to brush my hair once in a while.

The Animals

Lady on the Shelf

She’s good there. We can all use any help we can get. And tiny pleasures should never be overlooked.

1 comment:

  1. Or maybe she's a lighthouse keeper's wife scanning the horizon for ships lost at sea. And maybe I think this cause I'm still stuck on whales and dorsal fins. Either way she is perfect there on that rustic twig shelf that I love.


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