Sunday, January 11, 2009

How I Wasn't Surprised

Visiting a stunning waterfront home one bright fall day, I bee-lined for my main attraction -- the big water out back. But my attention was diverted by some curious sculptures in a clearing on the property. These were life-sized statues of children in play. Despite the dark brown monotone, they seemed real, frozen in motion yet poised to burst into life.

My dart to the water was arrested. I stopped to stare. And I wasn't the only one.

This was a gorgeous home built on a large wooded lot on the bay, furnished with champagne tastes and budget. A wall of windows faced the water side, caterers pulled food trays from the ovens in the gourmet kitchen and guests walked carefully on chic tiles, brushing by smart furniture. Even the closets in the re-done master bedroom had their own telephones and televisions. A walk through the woods to the water was rewarded with a a terraced deck overlooking majestic bay waters.

The bells and whistles eventually won out, of course. But almost everyone was drawn to the sculptures. And the children with heartbeats couldn't keep their eyes or hands off the facsimilies.

The flesh and blood models patted the bronze counterparts, holding the cold, hard hands. One actual toddler boy tried to pull down the faux boy's pants to see whether it had, well, business parts. This boy, so beautiful he could be a Gap or baby Ralph Lauren model, took a napkin and worked with care to clean the sculptured arms of sand he'd kicked up earlier.

Party-goers assumed our charming hostess had picked out the sculptures. She had long collected art and filled her homes with paintings. But no, she told us, her husband bought the art children without prior consultation. These pieces were simply delivered, to her consternation. So they languished in the basement for months while she figured out what to do. Landscapers were hired. They made a pebble and sand lot for the hard ones to cavort on, within easy view of the house.

This did not surprise me. Because several years ago I sat with this man at the tail-end of a business dinner far from home, compensated by multiple bottles of good wine. And he made a confession now commonplace from successful men nearing retirement age. He had spent too much time and energy away from his family when his now-grown children were young. His first marriage had broken up as a result, he said. He absolutely loved his second wife, their life, her biological children who he considered his own. But he could never get back the time he'd lost with his first, nuclear family. He had not taken good care with them.

Which made exquisite sense of the circle of bronzed children this man bought out of the blue, without a word of explanation. And had placed behind this grownup wonderland of a home where he is now spending his retirement years.

These perfect, silent bronze children will be with him until the end, keeping company, forever poised in youth and joy, playing together through the long days and cold, dark nights.

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