The butterfly effect


Long ago (18 years or so), Big Man and I used to cruise around the countryside of Mankato, MN in his navy blue Ford Ranger. We didn’t have a lot of money so we often went for rides just to check things out. One thing we discovered on these jaunts were lawn and house ornaments, most of which I hated. The most horrifying and objectional to me were monarch butterflies in pastel colors artistically arranged along the side of someone’s house. They appeared 40 times the size of a real butterfly and reeked of plain bad taste. This promted the phrase TBA–tacky butterfly alert, a phrase we still use today. Coming in a close second was a wooden cut-out of a woman who appeared to be bending over with her bloomers cheerfully peeking out at anyone who passed by all the while keeping a sunny bonnet firmly perched atop her head. I didn’t get that then and will admit to still being in the dark about it today.

What I realize now that my judgey-judgerson, snot-nosed college self did not, is who can account for taste? Advertisers spend billions to promote what they deem as ideal or good taste, but beauty and the perception of really is so personal.

But I finally hit upon what my real problem is with lawn ornaments yesterday. While driving home through the countryside of western Wisconsin, we spied a regal, life-sized 12 point buck made of iron mounted on a large steel oval in the middle of a yard that was at least a half-acre in size. Mowing around that beast must be a nightmare.

“Committment,” I muttered.

“What?” asked Big Man.

“I do not have the abilitiy to commit.”

Ahh….for years I have wondered about my gripe with lawn ornaments. Those gazing balls that birds like to pummel into make my teeth start to grind. The butterflies, wooden women, miniature windmills painted John Deere green, and on it goes. Holiday ornaments are temporary–we have a few of those, but if they come out seems to depend on the weather at Thanksgiving. The only certain decorations come at Halloween and even those are losing steam.

My grandmother once had a plaster replica of an African American boy she called her “Little Black Sambo”. The little guy was fishing and he looked like something that was straight out of Mark Twain novel–with less political overtones. Say what you will and think what you know to be true, but grandma was committed to that lawn ornamanent. Mr. Sambo lived in her yard for as long as she was on the farm and it moved to town with her until one day, she woke up and it was gone. Grandma was devastated…and furious. She took it upon herself to place this add: Please return Little Black Sambo to 101 Walnut Street. I will not press charges. Thank you.

He was never returned and years later, she would recall him whenever we were touring her yard looking at her plants. Again, we would hear the sad tale of Little Black Sambo MIA and she would conclude with a wistful sigh,”People can be so mean.”

Ah, yes. People like me making judgements on those who dare to clearly state their tastes and commit to them. Grandma was not interested in hearing about civil rights and what poor taste her lawn ornament suggested about her– she just wanted her little guy back.

So…it’s committment that is my problem. I have successfully committed to my husband, 6 gallons of red paint, and 2 kids. The committment to the kids seems dicey. I have tried to post them as “free” on ebay in a less-than-stellar parenting moment and it did not work. Everything else just fails me. I buy cheap stuff because I am afraid of changing my mind. I give evasive answers because I don’t want to be locked in. I avoid lawn ornaments because I don’t want snap, unjust judgements to be made about my tastes, or lack thereof. Or maybe I just don’t know if this is the home to make such bold statements. Perhaps I still have one foot out the door even though we’ve been here for 9 years and there is nothing new on the horizon.

Who knows? And it doesn’t really matter to anyone but me. But now that I know what my problem is, I can now gaze upon gargantuan butterflies with newfound respect. “Look at me! I have a home!” they will whisper as I drive by. “Someone loves me enough to hang me here for all the world to see!”

I will stifle a shudder all the while knowing it is me who lacks the ability to take on such a committment. But, there are certain things a person must learn to live with…and without.