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How My Childhood Menagerie Has Brought Me Joy, Comfort & Meaning

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It started with a medium sized turtle and the baby one by its side. My parents had brought back the onyx figures from a trip to Mexico and I was immediately smitten.

The stones were beautifully strong with a soothing smoothness. They were also delicately hand carved with great care and could shatter easily if dropped. I loved how they felt to my touch along with the seemingly contradiction of their strength, yet fragility. I bestowed upon them the narrative of being a loving mommy turtle and her baby which clearly spoke to me as a child. Noticing my yen, my parents gave me the turtles, and they were relocated to my room and found their place as mine. Looking back, I can’t help but think of my favorite movie Casablanca and when Humphrey Bogart (as Rick) delivered the closing line to Claude Rains (as Louis), “Louis. This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”.

Before long I was an onyx animal collector. Horses; pigs; mules; birds; bulls; dogs; fish; elephants; frogs; whales; – all slowly joined the menagerie on the dresser in my room and I lovingly arranged them in family groupings.

I felt like I was a modern Noah and my dresser the ark, providing them with a safe haven from the turbulent waters of life.

By the time I officially moved out of my parent’s home, I had over 60 onyx friends joining me as I headed out into the world and began life as an adult. They stayed individually wrapped snuggly in boxes until I had a place to display them in one of the early apartments my husband and I shared. When we bought our first house, I unpacked them quickly and was able to set them up again in their family groupings where they belonged. Something about them always brought me pleasure and comfort – a touch of beauty, solidity, my childhood haven, and a warmth just knowing they were there with me.

While my menagerie was no longer growing, my own family was. I had two children and after nine years we moved into a different house that better suited our needs. I loved the new house – it was set in the woods with groups of deer and wild turkeys roaming freely around us, birds building their nests in various nooks where I could watch them and coyotes howling their presence during the night. But, while contemplating where my own onyx animal friends could find their home as well, my husband made it clear he never really liked them and would prefer I left them in their boxes. I acquiesced and down into the basement they went. Life was busy and full as I was raising my family and undertaking various projects in the community. On the occasion that I went down to our storage area, I could see the boxes labeled “onyx” and would smile feeling the connection with that dormant, yet still alive part of me.

Seventeen years later my husband and I separated, and I moved out of the house to a small townhome nearby. That first night I found myself all alone in an unfamiliar place, surrounded by piles of my things and overwhelmed with a sense of both physical and emotional chaos. I was lost in an ocean of sadness and uncertainty. As I began to sob, I slowly understood what I needed to do. Finding my onyx amid the boxes and building an “ark” again in my new home would nurture both them and me like nothing else could have in that moment! As I unwrapped each animal, I held it in my hand and its own individual story came back to me. Joyfully arranging them with their families, my tears turned into a smile and I knew I was going be OK. My onyx friends were free again; and together we would make our new home a place of beauty and safety and comfort. For the three years I lived there alone, they were the first thing everyone could see when they walked in my door, and my onyx families always sparked great curiosity, wonder, and conversation, bringing me much joy.

When I moved to Boston to live with my new love and partner David, I could not find a place in the apartment to display my onyx where they could be seen and protected from potential breakage. I chose to keep them in their boxes again, stored away. As I made that decision, I was at great peace. I innately understood that while I loved my onyx, I no longer “needed” them and in reality, they probably never actually “needed” me! I had found my freedom, safety and comfort – first within myself, and then within my partnership with David as well.

David and I bought a house together not long after. I love the space and the lovely and loving home we have created together.

One day after we had settled in, I said to David that I thought that the fireplace mantel needed something to make it look complete, I just wasn’t sure what. Immediately he said, “What about your onyx animals”?! Be still my heart!!

All 63 of my lifelong friends are now proudly displayed upon our mantel; there to tell of our life journey together for all who ask. David and I hope this home will be our last and my onyx will be here for as long as we are. Obviously, onyx is a stone that is expected to be around on the earth long after I am gone. I can only hope that my animal friends will give future generations a small sense of who I was during my time, and just maybe, they can also begin again giving joy and meaning to another and sharing that someone’s life’s journey.

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About the author:

Kim Friedman Landau is a 63 year old retired medical social worker who lives in Boston.  She is an avid bicyclist, walker, crafter, cook, volunteer, partner, mother, sister, friend and now writer. After having cancer at age 51, Kim decided that life was a journey to be treated as an ongoing series of adventures. She is having a blast trying new things and exploring new ways to grow as a person. Blogging about what she is always learning is her latest joy.