Monday, October 20, 2008

The chickens

I have a house full of stuff. I really have tried to get rid of a lot, but it still leaves a lot. Not that it is all that great, mind you. Most of it is dusty old stuff that no one else would want. Sentimental, silly stuff. Like these chickens.

If you grew up in the '50s or '60s you've probably seen clones of this pair. Didn't every kitchen have a pair of chickens on that shelf next to the kitchen sink? My Mom made these. Well, she didn't exactly make them. She painted ceramic bisque chickens and had them fired. It was a thing women did back then. One evening a week she'd hurry us through dinner, kiss us good night and leave us in Dad's care while she went to "ceramics" with her girlfriends. It was very exciting to see what she'd been working on after it was fired and she could bring it home. There were a pair of Chinese girl and boy figurines who sat on a shelf, with their legs dangling over the edge that I thought were wonderfully exotic. There were a series of matching cigarette boxes and ashtray sets that were made as Christmas gifts for relatives. (Back then every coffee table had such a set sitting on it.) My sister has the wonderful Santa Claus that looks like the Santa that was in the ads for Coca Cola. Vases, lamps, pixies, creamers, sugar bowls—until the ceramics studio finally closed down.

Once when I was quite small I simply had to get my hands on those chickens and I climbed up on the kitchen counter to get a closer look. Of course I dropped the rooster and he broke. I can still feel the horror and guilt. Mom carefully glued him back together and the glue has held to this day. When I sorted through all my brickabrack I knew no one would ever love these chickens like I do, so they came to live in my new kitchen.

My Mom died ten years ago this month, just five months after Dad. She really was my best friend. She was only 20 when I was born and she said we grew up together, especially in the first few years before my sister and brother came along. We flew kites in the field across the street from the rental house where we lived and we played with my dolls and we painted pictures. She gave the three of us children the kind of ideal childhood she had not had for herself. When I started college she resumed her college education, given up years before when she got married. We were in classes together, but many people didn't know she was my mother because she promised me she would do her best not to intrude on my college experience. She loved school and graduated with honors. She took a job as the Executive Director of the Pocatello YWCA and, in that position, established an art center and the first battered women's shelter in the state. Both continue to operate to this day.

I am sad that she won't know Sofia. She adored babies and would have approved of Sofia's feistiness and outgoing personality. I strive to be the kind of grandmother she was. I sure miss her. The chickens are a poor substitute.

Me and Mom, probably saying, "look at Daddy and smile!"

P.S. This is post # 601. Wow.


  1. Those are wonderful chickens. I had to go run to the other room when I saw your post because I have a pair of chickens from my grandparents. Mine are not from the same mold, but definitely the same era. My great grandmother painted a nativity set in one of those ceramics classes you describe. It's a family heirloom and it's just not Christmas until my mom sets it up.

  2. Anonymous6:09 AM

    My mother taught ceramics...worked hard to get her license and then opened up a shop in our home. When they moved from Portland to Redmond in the mid 70's she opened a shop in their home there as well. I was never interesting but did manage to do a nativity in 1979 under the watchful eye of my momma. She shared her love of ceramics with me and I was able to share my love of quilting with her. I miss her so much.


  3. This gave me such a chuckle. My Mom was into the ceramics, too. She moved on from cookie jars and Santa Claus to making beautiful antique doll replicas. The woman who taught her is the MIL of one of my highschool friends and is still going strong in Florida.

    Love that photo - I see a bit of Sofie in you.

  4. Anonymous8:22 AM

    Sweet memoir--we all have something in our homes that speaks of a fragment of childhood, don't we? For DH it's the ancient mouth-blown "camphor" bottle complete with perfect round hole through its middle. He vividly recalls aiming a rubber band slingshot with paper clip at it, wondering if he could hit it just right. He did and his mother sobbed. As for ceramics, for my mother it was a Nativity set that is actually quite lovely.

    Precious picture--how YOUNG your mother looks.

  5. This brought a smile and a tear to my eye. Your mom was one to be reckoned with. I remember laughing so hard that we all were crying at stories you would tell. They were all the more funny because we all loved your mother and her humanity. I miss her Christmas letters and seeing her when I go to eastern Idaho.

  6. How wonderful to have had such a role model. Your Mother sounds like she was a wonderful woman and the picture soed have a Sofia in that sweet face.
    I will have to take pictures of my chickens. They are everywhere. I went through a phase plus I just think chickens are the comedians of the bird world.

  7. Goodness, I had forgotten about the ceramic phase. My Mom did it too, I think because my Aunt did it (even had a ceramic shop in the great Wascilla, AK - and, for the record, it didn't change her foreign policy experience). On one of the few occasions when we would get to go with her, I made a little doggy (I was probably only about 5 yrs. old), and my brother made a clown mug and gave it to me for Christmas. Thanks for bringing back that memory.

  8. Sweet remembrance, Terry.

  9. What a good post. Your memories of your mother's crafts brought her to life for me.
    I once read in some wise book that a real home always has to have some "real" homely (in the best sense of the word) pieces about. If everything is perfect and coordinated the place is just a house, not a home.