Monday, October 10, 2011

Owls in the Attic

Reading about Kate’s attic made me think of my own — and its contents.

Ten boxes of owls. It all began with my grandmother. When she was a young girl.

Her parents took a trip to New York City and brought back gifts for their three daughters – beautiful dresses for my grandmother’s two sisters, and for my grandmother — a plaster owl.

It was good-sized owl, over a foot high, and bore a remarkable resemblance to the real thing. It had been designed to decorate a mantel, a piano, or a bookshelf, in the typical Victorian manner.

For some reason my grandmother hung on to the gift, probably to remind her of the injustices of life, and when my grandfather died and she moved in with us, she brought the owl with her. But she refused to have it in her room, and my mother didn’t want it in our living room, and so eventually it ended up in my father’s studio, where he sometimes used it in a still-life, surrounded by fruit or flowers. But most of the time it collected dust.

And that’s where I think the trouble started. At one of my parents’ studio parties someone got a little tipsy and misheard my father say, “That owl collects dust,” and thought he said, ”I collect owls.” Because shortly thereafter, people began showing up with owls in their pockets, their purses, tucked under their arms, some even arrived by mail at Christmas and on his birthday. They were all sizes and shapes, made of wood, pottery, metal, straw, cotton and plastic. There were drawings and photographs, collages and needlepoints of owls. The question was, where to put them?

We had a recreation room when I was growing up, but it had gradually become the room-where-we-put-anything-we-didn’t-know-what-to-do-with-but-couldn’t-quite-bring-ourselves-to-throw-out. The ping-pong table was still there, and that’s where the owls ended up. It soon came to be known as, “The Owl Room.”

Time passed, And so did my grandmother, and my parents. The house was sold and its contents divided between my brother and me. I got the owls. So there they are, neatly wrapped in newspaper, packed in boxes, waiting — for what? To be rescued and returned to the light of day? Or to be carted off to the Salvation Army? Or – the nearest land-fill? Maybe the next time I have house guests and am forced to clean the attic, I will decide their fate. But not now. Not today. Tomorrow – as Scarlet would say.

Robin Hathaway


  1. I love owls, so studious-looking...You're one lucky woman, Robin!

  2. I love this post, the procrastination, the family goofiness, the irrational reverence for the Old Ones. Surely Robin and I must secretly be sisters.

  3. This is a very comforting piece, giving us a picture of a lovely childhood and a wonderful family life. You are lucky to have had those wonderful memories. thelma

  4. Finally caught up on reading blogs this week. Loved the post. Stuffed and wooden owls make great scarecrows actually. Good for keeping critters out of the garden.