This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for April 29, 2021, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.
In small, rural communities in Texas, it was kind of uppity to own a birdbath, — after all, birds could doggone well bathe and drink in the horse trough! Well, not only did my mother have a birdbath, but its bowl was held up by three seahorses made of concrete. Now you talk about uppity!
Naturally, already an artist and a poet as a child, like Mama, I loved that birdbath and the splendid day lilies surrounding it in all shades of yellow and orange. I sketched the birdbath amid the day lilies many times, did a watercolor of the scene, and even wrote a poem about birdbaths. Mama really wasn’t an uppity type of person, — she slopped the pigs and milked the cows – but there were some nicer things that meant a lot to her, especially flowers, birds, butterflies, and birdbaths.
Preferring art, music, and literature to cows, pigs, chickens, and cornfields, I’m convinced the three-seahorses-birdbath became a kind of symbol to me, — a symbol of aesthetics. No, not “athletics,” – “aesthetics.” I was as fond of it as Mama was.
When we moved from Dime Box to Giddings when I was 13, the birdbath went with us, and found a new home in a new bed of day lilies. Long after my parents’ retirement, when they moved back to Dime Box, the birdbath went with them, and found another new home amid the rosebushes my grandmother had planted many years ago. As an adult, the birdbath was always there for me when I came home for the holidays, in spite of its travel history.
Unfortunately, it came to a shattering end after both of my parents passed away, and my brother and I prepared to sell the home place. My brother had no interest in those two heavy pieces of concrete (the bowl and the pedestal of seahorses were separate pieces), thus I was overjoyed to inherit them. My friend and I loaded them onto the back of a pickup truck and took them to East Bernard. The concrete was stained and badly worn with cracks in the bodies of the creatures, but they meant a lot to me, so we hauled them to my yard.
The unthinkable happened! The pieces of concrete were so heavy that we just kind of rolled them out of the truck bed, letting them drop to the ground with a thud. When they landed, they broke into several pieces.
That’s not the conclusion of the story. Near the end of the next couple years, a time of mourning the loss of Mama’s birdbath, with the concrete pieces, still in the yard, halfway put together, a neighbor saw the remains and remarked that she had seen such concrete seahorse birdbaths on sale at the big fountain/birdbath/statues/yard furniture concrete place in Hempstead.
You can imagine how fast I took off for Hempstead with my wife in tow. Sure enough! There it was! An exact replica of Mama’s three-seahorses-birdbath! We bought it at once and brought it home to East Bernard that very day, and it has remained in our yard ever since.
Seahorses hold another special meaning for my wife and me. My wife grew up in Galveston, and when I would go there during our courtship years, I would stay at the Seahorses Motel on Seawall Boulevard. The neon sign in front of the place included the outline of a seahorse. In those days, it was a splendid motel and not very far from my future in-law’s home. Peggy and her parents would take me crabbing on the piers along Sewall Boulevard, where we saw lots of sea creatures, but never any seahorses, — perhaps because they are a crab’s favorite food.
Seahorses live in shallow tropical and temperate salt water. The similar creatures people find in fresh water are pipe fish, not seahorses. Yes, I yearned to know more about these creatures on my mother’s and our birdbaths and as a namesake of the Seahorse Motel, especially since I had always thought they were mythical creatures, like mermaids.
Over the years, I discovered they were real “fish” (yes, fish) who mate for life, and mourn when a mate dies. Hey, they are a lot like human beings, I thought, until I learned that they can have up to 2,000 babies at a time, and the babies are hatched in a pouch on the male’s body. Maybe not so humanlike after all!
Today, after my wife watered some plants in the yard, she noticed a couple cardinals seeming to splash a little in a runoff puddle. Aha! Time to fill the three-seahorses-birdbath with water, right there where it sits in the yard, aesthetically surrounded by irises. Such memories it triggers!
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher, a retired LCMS pastor, and the author of two books, Open Prairies and It Must Be the Noodles.