Dressing the Beaver



One hundred years ago (or so it seems), I attended Bishop Kelly Memorial School in Lapeer, Michigan.

Our teachers were nuns. Our nuns were Dominicans.

They wore habits of white and black. Their only embellishment was the long, black rosary that hung from their belt.

No patent leather.

No plaid.

No mohair.

On the deep windowsill of the elementary classroom sat a small statue of the Christ child. About eighteen inches tall, with porcelain features and outstretched arms, I believe it was “the Infant of Prague”. Not a newborn baby Jesus, but a toddler sized version, with a kind little face and sweet blond curls.

The very best thing about the Christ statue was that he had different outfits. Though he looked to be made of the same material as any statue, it seems he must have had some flexibility in his joints, because his clothes could be changed.

There were lacy and shimmery robes of velvet or satin with gold and silver embroidery. Tiny, precious beads and crowns. A gold necklace with a large, glowing jewel. The colors seemed to coordinate with what the priest was wearing at Mass. I’m sure there was seasonal significance, with special robes for Lent or Advent or Epiphany.

As a child, it just seemed glorious to come in and see the Christ Child in new colors. I pictured the nuns sitting around in their drab but well-pressed habits, trying one outfit after another on the little statue until they were satisfied. I imagined their glee when He finally looked just right.

When I started working at the hardware store more than ten years ago, I knew nothing about the business. I was unfamiliar with the computer system they used for purchases, ordering and inventory. I was ignorant about plumbing and electrical methods or materials. I had not yet learned about paint and caulk and nuts and bolts.

As I learned, I made myself useful doing what I knew.

I cleaned the rugs and swept around the fixtures in the front of the store. I went down the aisles with the big push broom and then the mop and bucket. I cleaned the pavement outside with snow shovel or rake or broom, depending on the season.

It wasn’t especially rewarding, but it made me a valued employee. I was willing to work every single weekend, and do the grunt work. It ensured that I would keep my job long enough to become good at it.

Still, I looked for creative outlet.

As the morning server at the Shamrock, I’d been known for my “Specials” board. In addition to posting the daily specials, soup of the day and dessert offerings, I added birthday wishes for my morning regulars, sketches of the weather, and caricatures of my customers. When people marveled over it, I’d say, “Oh, thanks…thirteen years of art school, twenty thousand dollars in student loans…I can do a pretty good specials board.”

At the hardware store, I set my sights on the beaver. As tall as me and three times as round, the beaver stands on a fleecy log inside the entrance. When I started working there, he was just a greeter. He wore a simple work apron. A sign hung around his neck saying “Hi, I’m Bucky Beaver! If you need help, ask someone dressed like me…” or some such nonsense.

What is the thing, by the way, with all beavers being named “Bucky” and all dachshunds having a name reflecting the fact that they look like a sausage?? Aren’t we glad that we, as humans, aren’t named for our most obvious physical feature?

Anyway, I adopted the beaver as my creative outlet. In my mind, his name is now something a little less about the teeth and more about respecting his gender-variable status. Maybe Lance.

I watched the re-sale shop for items that might appeal to him, in the triple-X size. I stitched fabrics together at home. I fashioned costumes out of plastic trash bags and foil gift wrap and poster board. I put together a box – labelled “Beaver-Wear” – of all of his costumes.

I dressed him for the seasons the way the nuns used to dress the Baby Jesus.

Maybe even a bit more flamboyantly.

For New Years, the beaver is a middle-aged drunken version of Baby New Year, with a glittery sash marking the year, an off-kilter crown and curled-ribbon confetti.

He has worn a stove pipe hat for President’s Day.

He’s the cutest, furry Cupid for Valentine’s Day…and on, and on.

I like to think it makes people a little giddy to see him re-dressed, the way I used to feel coming in to the classroom (one hundred years ago).

I know it makes folks smile.

I left the hardware last Spring – just about the time I got really good at it – and moved on to other things.

I re-learned jobs that I used to excel at before computers entered the picture. I found that – though I may be an old waitress – I am not too old to do the job. I set my sights higher, when other careers opened up. I kept going.

The beaver looked a little sad, whenever I stopped in.

He wore a camo jacket that the owner bought just for him, and put on a jaunty hat for St. Patrick’s Day…but the flair just wasn’t there.

I am back now, just temporarily, working one day a week at the hardware store…to supplement my income in the off-season.

Yesterday, I dressed the beaver up for Easter.

Isn’t life grand?

17 responses »

  1. Lance looks spectacular all dolled up for Easter weekend. As I read through this I wondered if you realized what a special person you are. Many people, doing the jobs you’ve done, would hardly have had a smile to offer and yet you manage to bring a touch of whimsy, personality, and a personal caring wherever you go.

  2. I love this, Cindy! I remember that statue and his finery. I love your depiction of the sisters having fun dressing up their Jesus doll. I’m sure Bucky is happy that you’re back, even for a little bit!

    • You were on my mind as I wrote this, because I knew you’d remember the statue as well. Thank you for correctly identifying the Christ statue for me…I edited the post to give him his correct title. You’re right, the beaver does look happy to have a bit more attention paid to his wardrobe! Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

  3. What a wonderful stroy. Loved reading this so much. Lucky people to have you as an employee where ever you happen to work. Oh and lucky beaver as well. Just call the beaver the hardward greeeter.

    • Thank you, Yvonne! It seems that you always have something encouraging and complimentary to say…I look forward to your comments! Thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

    • Yes, we must move on. Something like the song, “Love the one you’re with”…it’s not always the life I want to be living, but I love it anyway. Thanks for reading, Sara, and for your comments!

  4. Cindy, I still can’t believe we grew up so close to one another (relatively) and both migrated “up north” in Michigan. So happy that you have found the grandness of life. Such a nice post.

    • Oh, thanks, Kathy…actually this post was based on resignation to a mediocre life, failure and a touch of bitterness. Check out the previous post, “Enough of Hopefulness” for a clearer view. Anyway, I’m glad it can hold its own and appears positive that way! Thanks for reading, and for your comments!

  5. Cindy, can I risk repeating myself this morning? I LOVE your perceptions and gain so much from reading your blog.

    Such sage advice for young people (or anyone really) entering the work force, when you wrote: “….As I learned, I made myself useful doing what I knew….. I was willing to work every single weekend, and do the grunt work. It ensured that I would keep my job long enough to become good at it.”
    I’ve jotted that brilliant, useful passage in my version of the red notebook ( pink stylized floral pattern, of course!)

    • Oh, I’m so flattered that you would jot my ramblings down in your notebook! I have been in a bit of a slump lately. Discouraged, depressed, not keeping up well with reading or writing…I think you may have just jarred me right out of it! Thank you!

  6. Hi – While watching today’s Mass in Philadelphia with Pope Francis, I was remembering my childhood in Lapeer. We attended mass every day but Saturday while a student at Bishop Kelly, and to prove this fact to a family member I looked up Bishop Kelly School and found your story.
    We moved to Vermont in 1965, when I was 11 and about to enter 6th grade.
    I, too, miss the Latin mass, the mystery, and the nuns in their habits. Thanks for this lovely story – you’re a wonderful writer.

    • How nice to get this sweet note today, and to hear from someone with a similar history! I had a William Malcolm in my class at Bishop Kelly…I wonder if that is a relative? Thanks so much for reading, and for taking the time to comment!

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