One day a few years back, my son came home to say that his Aunt, my first husband’s sister, had a little china sausage dog that I had given her eons ago, gosh I must have been around 18 that she no wanted and asked if I would like it back. Parting with it had been a decorating decision. Back in the 70’s I was all about the orange, harvest gold, green and browns; I shudder to think of that orange and brown shag carpet! If anyone ever needed an intervention I did! That’s as far away from where I am now as I could possibly get. I tell people the experience left me allergic to orange. I’m all about the primary colours now and don’t plan on any deviations for a very long time!
Anyway this china nick nack was blue and white and it didn’t fit into the theme of the decade. She must have expressed an interest so I gave it to her. When I was small my frustrated mother always said I would give my arse away and maybe I did a few times when I was young and foolish....but she called it right, I don't have one toy saved from my childhood. Actually in those days I think she would have had to tie a pork chop around my neck to get a dog to like me so I traded away my toys for friendship. It's not that I was unlikable, I was just in my own head most of the time, preferring to play with imaginery friends and fairies, or maybe they preferred me, making playtime far more interesting than mere mortals could. Being shy compounded my loneliness and it might sound sad and pathetic, but a lot of little kids find it difficult to blaze their own trail, it's all part of growing up and discovering who you are. Anyway, my mother had given that little snack dog to me because it didn’t fit her décor either and I distinctly remember her saying she didn’t like the blue and white. Poor little thing, unwanted and unloved just like a real dog in a pound.
So many moons later, when this little snack dog came back to me, I had totally forgotten about it. When I opened the box I gasped. The sausage hound was covered in the Blue Willow pattern! This item had been a childhood toy. My mother mustn’t have had any grand appreciation for it because I was allowed to play with it. We're talking about a woman who had a plastic covering on the sofa and never used her good china so if it had any value to her, I wouldn't have been allowed to get close enough to breathe on it. I used to fill the compartments with candy, toys, sometimes dirt and beans during my farming stage, and pretended it was a doggie choo choo train for my brother's GI Joes and various plastic farms animals. For the amount of time I spent carting it around and mixing up the segments to make various shapes it's actually nothing short of a miracle that my child clumsiness didn't break any of the pieces.
So I stared at the dog as my thoughts peeled back the layers, to the time when I was a wee girl. It wasn’t long before the realization hit me. That blue willow pattern had been ingrained on my subconsciousness. When I sat around my host’s table with those dishes staring up at me it was as familiar as a long lost friend. A childhood memory revisited even though I didn’t have any conscious recollection. Without realizing it, a connection surfaced, urging me to seek out more of the comfort the design inspired.
With knowledge comes understanding and with understanding the urgency softened. After that moment I didn’t need to seek out and acquire every piece of blue willow in the country. Once I realized the psychological connection I lost the obsession. Maybe somehow my mind was searching out that original child’s toy or maybe I was trying to recapture or connect with the child within or maybe she was trying to connect to me? Who knows, but like quitting any addiction, I decided I had enough and quit cold turkey. 'Enough' is a bit of an understatement, by that time the cupboards were bulging to capacity so it was perfect timing to move on to another collectible…which turned out to be wool. My childhood memories of wool aren't pleasurable. Those pleated skirts I was made to wear were brutal on the skin, and at times there was complaining and whining. Today's wool is soft, you could lay on it naked without itching (not that there's any experience there). So my wool obsession was an adult discovery, not prompted by a recessed memory!
Around the time of my Willow enlightenment, CBC radio featured a very interesting program on the very phenomena I had experienced. An author, I can no longer remember his name, wrote a book about memories triggering emotional responses. He told a tale of a young man who was hit by a car. He was lying on the pavement when an older woman crouched beside him to offer assistance. He whiffed her perfume and fell head over heels in love with her. They married, the union was a disaster and they parted soon after. He never understood why he fell in love with her as they couldn’t get along and after self discovery and therapy he finally came to understand that her scent had triggered a memory of someone dear to his past, so his feelings had not been love but of comfort, familiarity and therefore safety. A powerful connection stirring through one of our most acute senses is not uncommon.
Life is so bloody interesting; a series of puzzle pieces that you spend your entire life fitting together. Sometimes you lose a piece or two, and sometimes the dog finds it on the floor and chews it into paper gum, but the space where the piece would have gone is always there, waiting to be filled in.
Because of my love for the Blue Willow and the story behind it I decided to design a pattern. Here is a condensed version of the tale. A mandarin's daughter fell in love with a poor young gardener. It was forbidden because she had been promised to an ugly, rich old man in an arranged marriage. The lovers ran away and tragically died to become the two birds, together for all eternity. That's it in a nutshell.
So I designed the pattern but alas never got around to hooking it. I have a thing about overdoing a theme. My house has willow and flow blue plates on the walls, a powder room decorated with willow fabric and willow wallpaper, dishes spilling out of the kitchen cupboards, dining room cabinets packed full, a throw in the living room, a few cross stitch pieces dedicated to the design, so it just seemed like overkill to add one more piece. It can mean the difference between elegant and tacky and I'm probably tittering dangerously close to the latter. And who wants a blue and white rug on the living room floor with puppies potty training and foot traffic. Our house is window rich and wall poor and affords little space for hanging a rug. So, maybe I'll leave the hooking up to the other obsessed willow fans.
When I discovered this little plate I thought the pattern would be fabulous hooked with these colours. It's easy to visualize the rich reds, golds and turquoises mixed in with several shades of blue. If anyone would like some help to colour plan this baby let me know and I'll give you a hand.