I’ve wanted a birdbath for a long time, but most birdbaths I’ve seen just didn’t appeal to me. They either seemed too crude or too faddish, and every single one that didn’t look shoddy was too expensive. I really liked the classical good looks of this one, but it was $375 in an upscale catalog, and that was several years ago. On top of that, the advertising copy advised to protect from frost. The last thing I need is to ruin a four hundred buck investment with one night of forgetfulness.
This past Thursday I was out running errands and the first store I entered was HomeGoods. If you’re not familiar with this store, it sells kitchen, bath, and decorating items that didn’t sell somewhere else. The prices are reduced from the original, but the selection can be erratic and eccentric. That is, just because something is on the sales floor doesn’t mean they can order more or additional items to match what they have. What you see is all there is.
The first thing I saw when I entered was, you guessed it, a birdbath. It was grouped with a coordinating cafe table and two chairs. They were all made out of mosaic tile in shades of green, though they had plenty of mosaic pieces in pink and purple. It was garden whimsy teetering on the edge of kitsch, and it utterly charmed me. And that surprised me. “I can’t believe you like that thing,” I muttered to myself (inside my head). “But I do,” myself replied. I threaded my way through the store, not finding what I was looking for, and somehow found myself back at the birdbath. “It’s not anything like that one in the catalog,” the interior conversation continued. “I know. But it looks like it would be perfect for a cottage garden. My garden.”
I looked it all over for a price tag and couldn’t find one. I finally asked a sales clerk, and she found the price on the bottom of the base: $99.99. A hundred dollars. A hundred dollars. Crestfallen, I left the store. I didn’t dare buy a birdbath like that for a hundred dollars. What if I stopped liking it? That would be a very expensive mistake. I wished someone would buy it for me so it wouldn’t be my hundred dollar mistake. But none of the people likely to give me a gift could afford a hundred dollar mistake, either.
I trudged through the rest of my errands with a heavy heart, hardly able to keep my mind on what I was doing. A hundred dollars. It would be hard to keep clean. A hundred dollars. It made me happy to look at it. A hundred dollars. I’d have to remember to bring it in every fall. A hundred dollars. It’s just not practical.
Picking up my kids at Grandma’s, I told my mother-in-law I had seen a birdbath I really liked. “You can have mine,” she immediately responded. I looked at her blankly. “Don’t you remember it? You put sand in the bottom to weight it down…” I realized this was not about birdbaths, not really. As the catalog copy had stated, “If birdbaths served only for avian hygiene, a tin washpan might suffice.” If my primary goal was to provide water for birds, there was probably a dozen ways I could cobble something together. No, what I was really hungering for was garden ornament–the birds would be an added attraction. And hadn’t I written about garden whimsy not too long ago? ” …art in the garden is a very personal thing, and it should consist of objects that really speak to you, and speak of you.”
If no one was going to buy it for me, I at least wanted someone to tell me to go for it. “I saw a birdbath I really liked today,” I mentioned at the supper table. “And you didn’t buy it because you knew it’d be broken in two months if you brought it home,” said my oldest child. Oh, yeah, I forgot about that. If the frost doesn’t get it, some kid will probably topple it. “No,” I said dejectedly, “I didn’t buy it because it cost a hundred dollars.”
Poor me, in every sense of the word. But I did have a gardening budget. I could buy that birdbath, but it would mean I’d have to give up buying something else, like certain plants in a certain mailorder catalog that I’ve been drooling over. That birdbath was not only expensive, but impractical. It was a hundred dollar gamble, and did I like the odds? “…perhaps I’m just not listening when something speaks to me.” Did I say that? I thought of other times in my life when I had done the right thing–well, not so much the right thing as the expected thing, and had not been happy about it, and had gone on to discover that it was an expectation that I had placed upon myself, and I had made myself miserable for nothing.
How would I feel if I didn’t get the birdbath? How long would I feel regretful? What if it didn’t get broken? What if, instead, it turned into a family icon, an heirloom that was treasured precisely because of its quirkiness? I wanted someone else to buy it for me because I was afraid of the risk–of what? Of not doing the proper, the expected thing. I was afraid of being impractical and profligate. What I really wanted was permission to own something for no other reason than because it gave me pleasure, and I had mistakenly been looking to others for that permission, when in reality I had to grant it to myself.
“Perhaps I could find it on the internet for less,” I thought the next morning. But every mosaic birdbath I managed to find didn’t look as nice, and cost just as much. The ones that looked as nice as “mine” (or nicer, I concede) were not only more expensive, but handmade, one-of-a-kind. And I came across a thread about cleaning them–a good soaking in bleach solution works wonders. “It’s probably sold by now,” I thought to myself. “But you won’t know until you call,” myself replied. So I called. And it wasn’t sold. And they put it on hold for me. And I bought it yesterday, along with the week’s groceries. Groceries that were purchased from a very carefully considered list, because I am, on the whole, a frugal shopper.