There are many perks to my fabulous job. I get to help doctors and nurses save lives. I get to buy new books, some of which I read myself. (Health memoirs are my weakness.) I get to keep things nice and tidy, a propensity that runs through my genes.
There’s one other thing that my local librarian friends don’t have. I have . . . a display window. Granted, it looks out on a hallway, not a busy city street, but still, it’s there, illuminated by one valiant light bulb.
When I took this job, some three years ago, that window intimidated me. My predecessor had some cool old medical books inside, and I was loathe to change them. I am, to my great regret, a person who can say she is “good with my hands” only when my fingers are on the keyboard, and I don’t mean the piano. I’m stupendously good at washing dishes, a dying art. But crafts? Captivating window exhibitions? Are you kidding?
Every time I would try to come up with an idea, Barbie popped into my mind. I thought it would be cute to pose her in different settings, always with a book or two in hand. (Which reminds me of a time, not that long ago, when Barbie’s little sister Skipper reappeared, only to be claimed by my daughter, Allison, who dressed her in jeans and a flannel shirt, renaming her “Grunge Skipper.” Evidently a love of all things Barbie runs in the family.)
The person in charge of our workplace 403b sponsored a contest a few years ago. The investment company had come up with a little mascot named Max (probably for “Maximize your savings!”) who, being made of black pipe cleaners, could be posed in all sorts of ways. The contest urged employees to create scenarios of “How I’ll spend my retirement years,” with the only stipulation that Max be featured.
The contestants came up with amazing scenes. If I remember right, they included Max reading, Max hanging out at the beach, Max kissing Maxine under the Eiffel Tower. (Okay, maybe not that last one.) It became obvious I was surrounded by people who were good with their hands not only in the OR and the lab, but also artistically. All I could do was admire them, and sigh. And wish I’d written down their names, so I could call on them to do my display window for me.
But no. This is mine. It’s up to me to dress my window, as they call it in New York at Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Maybe I couldn’t create Christmas displays with moving toy trains, but surely I could find something to fill this yawning space.
I started with flowers. Allison and I spent an exhausting evening checking out Michael’s and Hobby Lobby. As usual when I shop, I had something very specific in mind (miniature daffodils, the perfect harbinger of spring) and, as usual, I could not find what I’d pictured so clearly inside my own head. I settled for tulips, and some nameless yellow flowers which might resemble daffodils if you squinted. I also bought some Styrofoam to stick their plastic stems into, and some Easter grass to look like, well, grass.
With that happy spring scene on the lower shelf of my case, I was set. I propped up a new book on the middle shelf, and, on the top one, carefully set the Lladro porcelain angel my friends gave me upon the death of my mother. The angel, and my mother (who really could make anything with her hands), seemed to be giving their blessing to my admittedly paltry display.
After that timid start, it became easier. In the fall, I scattered fake colored leaves about, setting jeweled pumpkins on top. Winter was fun, because I brought in candles I’d inherited from my parents. Never burned, they included three earnest choir singers and a snowman who skated; an oval mirror served as his ice. Once Christmas was over, I removed the fake presents and the decorations on the miniature pines, and stuck with a snow scene.
The hardest transition is from winter to spring. Everybody is sick of snow and wants to see flowers, please! even though the view outside is of snow on snow on snow, to quote Christina Rossetti. I’m sorry, but like Mother Nature, I’m not putting up flowers until it’s really their time.
Summer really makes my Barbie senses tingle. I would love to pose her in her Barbie pool, lounging on an air mattress, beach read in hand. Instead, I covered some old books with bright, summer-themed dust jackets, throwing in some miniature sand buckets, sunscreen, flower seeds, sunglasses, and flip flops.
And so it goes. The seasons change, and so does the display. I’m reminded of my Colorforms Little Miss Weather, whom I would dress appropriately and prop in my parents’ picture window, firmly convinced that people walking by would see it and say “Uh-oh! It’s going to rain! I better run back for my umbrella!”
I think, too, about the long walks I used to take when I had a dog. Zooey and I would fearlessly wander the neighborhood after dark, because Zooey was a protective Labrador retriever. If people’s drapes were not drawn, I got a kick out of seeing into their houses. (Mom always said, “If they don’t want us to look, they should close the curtains.”) I’ve heard some people arrange tables by the window just for this purpose: to set a beautiful scene.
Soon it will be time for my back-to-school diorama. But I’m not rushing things. We waited a long time for this summer. Autumn will have to wait its turn.