“Birthplace of the flamingo will go the way of the dodo,” was the headline in the Boston Globe. The end to lawn flamingos? Say it isn’t so.
My parents didn’t go for them, so I grew up kind of deprived, but I’m no stranger to lawn ornaments. In our blue collar neighborhood in Worcester, most of the local lawn-deco was of the Bathtub Madonna variety, but someone around the corner had little Dutch girl and boy statues in their front yard, and someone else had a plaster donkey cart. Cement birdbaths were pretty common. My grandmother had one in her yard on Winchester Ave, and I loved to run my fingers through the luke-warm, slightly greasy water and draw my initials in the basin’s scum.
My other grandmother lived in Chicago, and the highest point of our bi-ennial trek to 4455 North Mozart was a visit to the Elf House. We wouldn’t be in Grandma’s door for five minutes, when we’d be badgering my father to take us there. A couple of blocks away from my grandmother’s, the yard of the Elf House was full of – as you have cannily guessed by now – statues of elves. Elves on swings. Elves playing cards at mushroom card tables. Elves pushing baby buggies. Elves mowing lawns.
If I remember correctly, the Elf House sat on a corner lot, and had a more extensive yard than most of the bungalows in the area. It also had trees in the yard. (It was a shady neighborhood, but most of the trees were on public ground, so this was unusual.) Naturally, there were elves perched in the trees.
When visiting Chicago, most of our time was actually logged at my grandmother’s summer house in Lake Villa, up near the Wisconsin border. Now part of the suburban sprawl zone, Lake Villa in those days was the country. There were corn fields just across the dirt lane from the Lake House (also called the Country House), and a duck farm just down the road. (Sometimes the ducks escaped and waddled up our lane.) The house was on Sand Lake, which would have been more correctly named Muck (or Leech) Lake. From the kids’ standpoint, the niftiest features of the Lake House included the fake wishing well and the fieldstone windmill* that my grandfather had built sometime during the 1940’s. The windmill, which had lots of little colored glass windows in it, was particularly fascinating, since you could peer in the little windows - half of which were broken - and look at dead bugs.
I craved a mini-lighthouse of my own, an elf on a swing. I could not understand why we didn’t have any lawn decoration at home. The best my parents came up with was a wooden tub filled with geraniums. Bor-ing
Still, even my parents liked to look at lawn stuff.
Along with playing Canasta, and singing along with Mitch on Friday nights, going for rides was a major source of family entertainment, and driving around Worcester County made us all something of lawn ornament connoisseurs. We would have liked the Statue of Liberty on Shrewsbury Street better if it was authentic verdigris, rather than terra cotta. We loved the place in Paxton that had the little pond out front with the sailboats in it – so classy it almost didn’t count as lawn decoration. We hated the Madonnas stepping on the snakes – especially if the snake was painted a livid green with a bright red tongue. Worse still if the snakes were making big googly-eyes. Our collective favorite was the gazing ball – silver, blue, green – it didn’t matter. (Hey, I still want one.)
We didn’t particularly like flamingos. They seemed flimsy, chintzy, tacky. We actually made fun of people with them in their yards.
Still, it is with a pang that I see that the makers – and originators - of lawn flamingos, Union Products of Leominster (which, I will note, is in Worcester County*), is closing its doors on November 1st. Union is selling the molds to another company, but it won’t be the same.
No, if I had a yard, and if I were going to put any lawn-deco on it, I’d pick a gazing ball, not a flamingo. Yet I am saddened by the passing of Union Products. I may try to buy a flamingo or two before they disappear entirely. I have no use for it myself, but my Aunt Kay still owns the Lake House. Perhaps I can get her one.
I can see it now, staked next to the windmill, peering in through the window, eying the dried up bumble bee carcass, the spider dead in its web.
* Thanks to my cousin Ellen for reminding me that this was a windmill. I'm such a New Englaner, I remembered it as a lighthouse.
**Which also gave the world the Smiley Face.