Stretch Armstrong, Tube Sock Monkeys and Rick

Anyone alive in the 70s will remember stuffed monkeys made from tube socks, roach clips decorated with feathers, and stained-glass windows featuring doves.  We had all these, along with crocheted jump suits with rainbows on the chest I naively wore.

Supporting a growing family by selling pottery isn’t easy.  Our house is filled with items dad has traded with other post hippies with a penchant for painting, poetry, and pot.  While other kids, for birthdays and Christmas, got Stretch Armstrong, or Battle Star Galactica action figures, or slot car racetracks, we got driftwood with faces carved in them, hand painted trains, trucks, and puzzles.  The things you see elves make in every animated Christmas movie, ever. I am perceptive enough to know our presents are better; handcrafted and unique just like God made me.

For my birthday I got a two-foot-tall marionette peacock with real feathers.  I named him Rick. Though he has a slightly perplexed look in his eyes, he is cocky and proud when hanging in my bedroom.  When I take him down and manipulate his strings, he’s a bit gawky.  Rick takes giant steps, his head wobbles like a drunk toddler. I make him run, like a blind man someone has coxed on to a treadmill.  I take Rick through our house.  I make him take blundering steps past an oil painting of a tiger. I make Rick fly and attack Aaron in his handcrafted highchair.  I make Rick tap dance in front of ceramic pigs with broken legs and missing snouts.  If asked his thoughts, I image him awkwardly shifting his head towards me. His crossed eyes trying to focus, “What is wrong with me, how did I end up like this?”

 “It just takes a little more practice.” I’d reply, “Just have faith.  All things work out for the good for those who love the Lord.”  Rick looks away and whispers to himself, “I need to call my agent.”

My favorite item dad traded for is a 5-foot-tall mirror framed in stained walnut. The artist carved ornate designs and “Jesus Loves” at the top and “You” at the bottom. I stand in this mirror admiring my good looks; comfortable and confident that not only Jesus loves me, but everybody does.

My least favorite is the wooden slide. After jumping around in the back sprinklers, bare chested in swimming trucks I climb up the stairs, then push myself down the slide.  Wooden slides don’t thrive in backyard sprinklers and hot summer days.  My dad pulls out the splinters with tweezers, needles, and pliers.  “Well, what did you expect?” he laughs.  “varnish”, I should have responded.  As I’m bent over a chair, my bottom in the air, I make eye contact with Rick. I think he’s smirking.

Years later I learned to dislike the full-length mirror. I’d stand in my tight white fruit of the looms, read the inscription and look at my reflection. “Jesus Loves” a chubby, naked, pink adolescent with a baby face and man eyebrows, “You”.  I’d lean in and whisper, “What is wrong with me? How did I end up like this?”

Behind me a can see the marionette in my bedroom, matted and tangled in a corner. Aaron threw up on him.  I tried to give him a bath. But Rick will never be the same.

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