In order to find, first you must seek
I was browsing the UsedOttawa Folk Art category recently, just to see what kind of things people were selling there. Let me tell you, there is a surprising variety of stuff in there.
Take for example, this gong. It can be used as a dinner bell, or for impromptu re-enactments of The Gong Show, a summons for the kids to come inside from an afternoon of outdoor play or for when it’s time for them to brush their teeth at bedtime. Think of the possibilities! But what about its history? Who was this mysterious old Asian man of whom the ad speaks?
One of the best finds I’ve ever made online and elsewhere – is a wooden doll which I purchased at an estate sale down the street from where we live.
With youngest in tow I suddenly found myself browsing through someone’s belongings. There were stacks of odd things: old magazines, a collection of handsaws, countless knick-knacks, an old wooden toilet seat (!) … picking through all of that stuff felt downright voyeuristic. My daughter was eyeballing a dusty ceramic puppy and a box of broken wind-up toys, but what caught my eye was a hand-carved wooden Pinocchio doll.
I’ve browsed through many yard sales and thrift shops but I don’t have any experience judging the value of wooden toys or folk art. Whether something is valuable or not rarely enters into the equation,Â but this piece spoke to me. It reminded me of simpler times. It reminded me of the toys made by the grandfather of one of my childhood friends.
“Grandpa” (as we all called him he was everyone’s adopted grandpa) made popsicles in the summer (ice cube trays of Koolaid with toothpicks “handles”) and distributed them freely to all the neighborhood children. He also made wonderful wooden toys: a scale model of a gas station for his grandson and doll houses for his granddaughters.
Now that I’m old enough to appreciate how much time and effort it takes to make a gift by hand, I feel a little differently about all of it. I realize how special these kinds of things are, and I appreciate them much more.
The Pinocchio lying on the table before me had hands that were very roughly hewn. They looked almost like shovels with thumbs. The feet were simple and rounded. The only working joint was in the left arm.
I loved it. But I didn’t have any money with me so I left it behind.
The next day I drove by again. I pulled over, feeling hopeful. At first I couldn’t see him, but a second look located him quickly enough. The sticker on his forehead told me the price I was expected to pay: $10.
I didn’t have much cash on me. I should have scrounged up more money before I left the house. A fiver represented the only paper money I had and a loonie stood alone among all the silver. I had about six bucks to work with. I wondered if the proprietor would accept my offering. I held up the Pinocchio.
“Will you take six,” I asked.
“But it’s all I have…”
I showed him the money. Perhaps I looked like a lovestruck of kind of gal who deserved some degree of pity. Perhaps he remembered my daughter and I poking around the previous day, although it’s more likely that he just wanted to clear everything out. Regardless of the reason, it was mine. He scowled a little, looked away, and grumbled a grumbly “okay.”
When I got home I peeked under Pinocchio’s clothing. His clothes were machine sewn and fairly new-looking. They didn’t look like they belonged. Much to my surprise he wasn’t naked underneath. He sports a painted shirt and what might be lederhosen.
This all happened years ago, but I still can’t help but wonder about the story of this little fellow. There are no markings on him at all.
The history of the Pinocchio toy is forever lost, and it makes me a little sad. Whose grandpa made it? How did this little guy end up lying on a folding table surrounded by ceramic puppies and wooden toilet seats? Why doesn’t anyone want him anymore? It makes me want to write histories for all of our special things, just so the stories don’t get lost amid the detritus.