When I was a teenager, I was part of a Christian singing group. One of the group members was an older guy named Bill Andrews: he was a prolific songwriter who sang and played guitar, and he was the kind of person who seemed to travel wherever the wind took him. He was also a wood carver. At that time, one of his popular carvings was a potato-picker -- not the machine kind, but a figure of a man bending over to put potatoes into a basket. I bought one of these potato-picker carvings from him and gave it to my parents. It was fairly small -- the base of it was only about eight inches long -- so they set it on the window rail in the kitchen, above the blue couch. That's where it stayed ... for more than thirty years.
In August of 2014, my mom got sick and was diagnosed with liver cancer. While she was still in hospital, my dad moved to an apartment; she lived there with him for a couple of weeks before she died in September, but she never came back to the farm.
During the time that the farmhouse was being emptied and cleaned, the potato-picker carving disappeared. It seemed strange that it could just vanish -- it had been in the same place for so many years, and many other knickknacks that had been around since forever seemed to have remained intact -- but it was also easy to imagine it being tossed out as garbage or lost in a pile of firewood. Nobody we mentioned it to had happened to see it, and it never did turn up.
I knew it wasn't that important an item; after all, it had just sat there, mostly unattended to, for years, and its value was sentimental only. But I did feel a little sad that it was gone. I wished that I at least had some evidence of its existence, so I looked through the photos on my computer to see if there were any in which it appeared. This picture, from April 2012, is the only one I could find: the carving can be seen very faintly in the background, on the window rail above the heads of my niece and my dad.
A couple of weeks ago I got a Christmas card and note from my aunt (my mom's sister) in PEI. There was a little lump in the envelope, and when I opened it I found a one-and-a-half-inch-long carved wooden duck.
I read her note to one of my brothers, and at the mention of the potato-picker he looked guiltily at his wife and said, "That was broken, so we threw it out" -- which made perfect sense. Probably it had fallen off the ledge once (or more than once) and got cracked; I could even envision my mom or dad just placing it back up there without even bothering to fix it. My brother probably had no idea of its origin, and the logical thing to do with a broken knickknack is to toss it out.
When he said it was gone, I realized I didn't mind at all. I'm glad to know what happened to it. I'd actually rather know that it was actively discarded than wonder if it was languishing in a box somewhere or gathering dust on a shelf at Value Village.
The little wooden duck is quaint, and I treasure it. It's not quite the same as having the potato-picker back, of course, but when I look at it, it sets into motion all the thoughts and memories that I've described here. And it carries its own touching associations: the fact that my aunt made a point of asking Bill about the potato-picker, that he made a point of returning to her house to put the duck in her mailbox, and that she sent it to me.
We've all heard accounts of people losing something and finding it again in the most unlikely way: "I happened to be strolling past a massive landfill and spotted something shiny, and there was my engagement ring!" Or "I was deep-sea diving in Florida and lo and behold, I found the glasses I lost ten years ago!" This isn't one of those stories (sorry about that, if you were hoping for an unexpected twist at the end). But it's still a nice one, isn't it? A story can have a satisfying ending even if things don't turn out exactly the way we hoped.