The idea came to me when I was on a run, like all of the best ideas do. I think I had passed a house that had a giant butterfly or two attached to the roof (talk about kitsch), which made me think of our neighbor when we were growing up, Albina.
Albina was like a grandmother to us. She was quiet, and kept to herself, and with our side yard being so big (more than two house lots, but just), it wasn’t like we could throw pleasantries over the fence. So we kids talked to her whenever she was out gardening and we were out playing, and she must have talked to my parents from time to time. I know that when she drove past in her little four-door sedan (with the electric windows that we thought were so. fancy.) and we were outside, she would stop and talk to mum.
Not only did we talk to Albina when she was outside gardening (which seemed like all the time – the woman loved her flowers and plants), she sometimes borrowed me to help her run errands. We go driving around the city, picking up various things. I think she liked the company. She didn’t have any family. So I was her stand-in granddaughter. And I liked that. She always took me to McDonald’s for lunch when we ran errands, and she knew all the best McDonald’s with the coolest outside playgrounds. Even if the “cool” ones were far away, she would take me there. She liked to treat me.
Sometimes the errands we ran included picking up new ceramics from her supplier. Albina ran a ceramics class out of the basement on her side of her duplex. The shelves were lines with unpainted figurines. Everything from bears to kittens to clocks to doll’s heads and hands. Everything! She had shelves and shelves. She had two long tables with chairs and so many jars of paint! And there was a TV and two giant kilns in the corner. It was a wonderland!
For a couple summers, Albina taught Kim and I ceramics two days a week. We’d go over in the afternoon and stay for an hour or so. Albina would pick out a piece for us (or sometimes ask us for ideas) and that’s what we’d work on. We did Care Bear banks, a Holly Hobby clock, a baseball nighlight for Joey, and so many other things. We’d paint whatever section Albina had picked out for us, and we’d use whatever paint she gave us. There wasn’t really a lot of choice involved, but we didn’t mind. And we watched Albina’s show, Days of Our Lives, while we painted. Mum wasn’t very pleased about that, but not enough to say something. I laughed to myself when my roommate in college was addicted to that show and I still knew so many of the characters, just from the short time I spent watching it with Albina.
One of our favorite things about ceramics class, though, was the walk. We’d leave our yard, walk to the end, past the three giant pine trees, and turn onto Beanie’s path. (Beanie is what we called her; she always chuckled so at her nickname!) Once we hit her walkway, Kim and I would start counting the ceramics we saw attached to Beanie’s roof, or the side of her house, or hidden in her garden. There were gnomes and butterflies, kittens and frogs, signs and mushrooms and stepping stones. It was all so magical! Truly, each piece felt like a talisman of some sort.
And so that’s my tribute: I want to start placing nice pieces of ceramics around my gardens, fairy gardens, and house. I want to cover my yard in a tribute to Albina. I’ll try my best to keep it from being too tacky, because I want to capture a little bit of the magic that Beanie’s house had. I think keeping most of the pieces at least partially hidden might be key.
We’ll see. I have an entire yard and house to start decorating. Kitschy or a bit magical – I’ll let you know how it turns out.