Paul Keane: Beauty is there when we look for it
The Ugly Duckling, Dumbo, Rudolph — three stories about young’uns who got bullied because of their looks: black feathers, big ears, a red nose.
Bullying extends to inanimate objects too. I have had a 500-pound cast iron Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for 56 years that has been picked on all that time as a red nosed pile of junk.
I bought this Rudolph when I was 16. And it was then indeed in a junk-heap in front of the feed store next to my church.
But I saw something in it which nobody else did. I saw a sculpture.
It was being sold as a machine. It had been a dry cleaning tailor’s press made by the Hoffman Company and it had five pedals that were used to run the machine. Its dry cleaning “pads” were missing.
Nobody wanted the machine because it was manually operated and in 1960, when I was 16, the rage was for everything to be electric.
Poor old Hoffman.
In fact, with its five pedals I called this machine “The Tails of Hoffman” (for the opera The Tales of Hoffman).
My parents thought I had lost my mind. I’d even paid my entire week’s salary of $15 from Stop and Shop ,where I worked as a bagger after school. That’s how much I wanted that crazy object.
As I said, my parents thought I was nuts until I painted the Hoffman tailor’s press “deer” tan and white and gave it a big red nose.
Suddenly my parents saw what I saw: It was Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, a 500-pound cast iron version, but Rudolph nonetheless.
Keep in mind, the carol says, “All the other reindeer wouldn’t let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games.” In other words, he got picked on.
My parents didn’t pick on him exactly, but they didn’t “see” him till I painted his nose red.
Others did pick on him.
He stood in my parents’ yard in Mt. Carmel from 1960 to 1992, when my father died.
I had Rudolph moved to my Vermont house that year along with my parents’ furniture and he has been here ever since.
That’s 32 years outdoors in Connecticut weather and 25 years outdoors in Vermont weather for a total of 57 years outside in the elements. The snow has actually reached up to his chin in Vermont.
I said my Rudolph got picked on. The moving company charged me $75 extra to add him to the moving van. The driver called Rudolph “that thing” and dropped him, breaking one of his “antlers” ( made from a cast iron arm for the dry cleaning “pad”.)
The real estate agent in Vermont who sold me my house called him “Rudolph the red nosed junk heap” and over the years many passers by have asked me what is that “thing” in your yard?
Like my parents 57 years ago, the minute I say “Rudolph” they “get it”.
It’s ironic isn’t it?
Rudolph in the Christmas story was picked on for having a red nose. My sculpture is picked on until his “red nose” is pointed out and unlocks his identity.
Like those three children’s stories, The Ugly Duckling, Dumbo, and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, my sculpture has been picked on for his looks for his entire existence since I created him.
And let that be another children’s story with a lesson: If you appreciate art, you will see reindeer when others do not
Paul Keane grew up in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden. He lives in Vermont where he retired after teaching English for 25 years.