We tired of angels in the 90s. They were everywhere:
- That TV show about being touched
- Those bemused cherubs, isolated from frescoes, adorning everything from greeting cards to toilet paper holders
- That highway to you know where
- That doomed Nicolas Cage character (aren't they all?) who lived in a city of them
- And let's just throw in Charlie's three, too.
Perhaps enough time has passed and we have entered a more conservative, tentative even, cycle when angels are once again okay for lawn ornamentation. We love a good estate sale. A few weeks ago, we drove two hours away to participate in an estate sale of what appeared to have been a wealthy woman -- though apparently her son and daughter wanted nothing of her estate. We deduced this from the boxes of portraits being sold only for their frames and fat family albums stacked for disposal.
Then we found the angel. He is perched on the bowl of a metal birdbath, one toe tentatively in the water. It was not all that old, though not cheap in its day. The angel seemed right somehow. It called to us, even.
We were reminded of our favorite short story from Alan Gurganus, "It Had Wings." In it, an old woman finds a hurt angel -- truly a fallen angel -- in her yard. She tries to comfort him (for it is a him, or perhaps a hymn)
"The head hums like a phone knocked of its cradle. She scans for neighbors, hoping they'll come out, wishing they wouldn't, both."
We knew immediately we wanted the angel and knew exactly where this new birdbath would reside. And yet, anyone driving through Snob Hill would be able to see it. Did we really want to share this new angel? Would the neighbors exclaim, "It's too much. What's next, garden gnomes? Pink flamingos? That giant fiberglass statue of the ax-wielding Paul Bunyon?"
And yet, we balanced our fear with the story of our neighbor across the lane. Her husband claims she has nearly 100 garden statues throughout their small lot. We sneaked over once when they were traveling, and we counted. Then lost count. And we could tell no one about our interloping. Until now.
We knew we didn't really care what anyone thought. We had shrugged when one neighbor expressed his disdain for the shade of yellow we painted the house -- after it had been gray for more than 20 years. We were reminded of a former supervisor who was fond of saying, "Well, that's your opinion, and you're entitled to it." Not everyone on Snob Hill, it seems, is open to change. And they're entitled to it.
A week later, on Mother's Day, one of our mothers stood by the angel and said, "I have this birdbath, too. I named her Noelle." We said we thought ours was a he. "Oh, an angel can be either," she reassured us. "You could name yours Noah."
The thought of bi-angels rattled us for a moment. Then decided it was safest to think of this as more of a tomato-tomahto thing.
Today, the first peony bloomed, right behind our angel. It framed him. So we took this photo of the two of them. He will be less fleeting than his floral companion. And we were reminded again of Gurganus's story:
"Maybe other angels have dropped into other Elm Street backyards? Behind fences...Folks keep so much of the best stuff quiet, don't they."