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November 29, 2012

Giving gnomes a home

Cooperstown Crier

---- — Whack a mole, if you must, but never a gnome. You’d enrage those who dote on them. And there are many such people, though maybe not as many as gnomes. Gnomes are everywhere.

Even in cities, small ones squat in window boxes, staring out between the begonias. In rural, upstate New York, we spot them all over, common as deer scat. In front of farmhouses, they stand around bathtubs half buried on end to form a Fatima statue grotto.

Those bathtub gnomes, I’ve noticed, never look toward the Fatima statue. I’m pretty sure all gnomes are heathen, the way all leprechauns are Irish and (I’m also pretty sure) all trolls are Norse, at least one generation back.

Garden gnomes are cute, I guess, what with their jaunty pointed caps. And their wide belts cinched above their bellies, under their armpits. And their boots folded over at the tops as if they’d been made for somebody bigger, maybe a troll. All that’s endearing, I guess.

But toward gnomes, I’m still ambivalent. Partly that’s because of they way they stare — straight ahead, never up at you. Granted, there’s a large height difference; and maybe that explains the stony stare. We’re just too damned big. And loud. And patronizing. 

And so gnomes stand and stare, some affecting an odd posture: a fists-on-hips, bent-at-the-waist stance, as if they’re going to break wind. More scorn for us, I guess. 

But I withhold judgment. Many people go weak-kneed over gnomes, and that’s fine. They’re welcome to them. (They’re also welcome to leprechauns that leer from under plaster toadstools, and to those little concrete girls in concrete picture hats and frocks, daintily tipping concrete watering cans.) 

Our dog Blue now has an odd gnomic link. Blue is mostly a Louisiana Spotted Leopard Dog. (If you think I’m making up that breed, just google the whole name. Up will pop a photo of a hound in the back of a pickup; he could easily be our Blue.) 

Good old boys in Catahoula Parish developed the dogs to run in packs of three and pull down wild boar. Two are to clamp onto the back hocks, and the other onto the snout. 

Probably the dogs draw straws for position, with the unlucky one drawing facing up to snout and six-inch tusks. The three of them try to wrestle the boar till the hunters catch up. 

Our Catahoula dog, rescued by a local shelter, has other, mellower breeds mixed in him. He does get frenzied, though, when a Harley roars along our frontage. A hog, you see.

Blue was educated up and through Advanced Agility Training. He’s also a certified Therapy Dog, though a retired one now. He’s largely spending his golden years under the kitchen table, sleeping paw in paw with Simon the cat.

He doesn’t need his doghouse any more, and so Anne and I decided to put it into our part of the hamlet’s community yard sale. Most of our stuff was laid out in our double garage, but I dragged the doghouse halfway down the drive to display it. And that’s how Blue get mixed into gnomic culture, such as it is.

Blue’s never known gnomes personally. His closest encounter came on a long walk last year, when I had to yank him away from offering a neighbor’s gnome a three-legged salute. But now his departed doghouse will enmesh Blue right into the gnome tradition. 

Towards the end of our yard sale, after we’d unloaded endless stuff that likely will be sold at the buyers’ next yard sales, the doghouse still stood by the driveway. But then up its slope came a stooped couple, holding hands and smiling gently. They could have been Gram and Gramps, stepped out through the frame of a Norman Rockwell painting.

Gram spotted the doghouse and literally threw up her hands, just as grannies are supposed to do. I was near enough to hear what she said to Gramps.

“Pa! It’s the very thing!” 

My job that day was to chat up the customers, and so I walked right over. When I told her the asking price, I thought she was going to cry.

“Why, that’s so reasonable! And we’ve been looking for one just like this for three years!”

I helped Gramps carry Blue’s house down to their car and then asked, “What sort of dog do you have?” I was going to tell them about Blue and the Catahoula — the doghouse’s provenance, you see. But Gram shook her head.

“Oh, we don’t have a dog.” When I asked what kind they planned to get, the old dear smiled radiantly.

“It’s not for a dog. It’s for all our gnomes!”

Then she described her plan: to paint the doghouse to look like a proper gnomes’ home and plant violets and primroses around it.

I was stunned but managed to ask, “And will the gnomes be inside it?”

“Some,” she said, pleased by my interest. “Some will stand in the doorway, and others will be inside, looking out around them.” She was almost lost in her vision. “And more will be standing around outside, among the flowers.”

I so wanted to know how many gnomes in all, but now she was hugging me and even kissed my cheek.

“You’ve made us so happy — hasn’t he, Pa?” Pa nodded at me, but I’m pretty sure he also raised both eyebrows.

And then, damn it! I let the car drive away without asking where Grammy and Gramps live. I’d drive a hundred miles to see the gnomes in and around Blue’s doghouse, their freshly painted manor. Of course, I’d take Blue along with me.

On a leash.