Family traditions. There are all kinds. They are those wonderful rituals that we pass down through generations that give our families a sense of connectedness. A special bond that only family members can share, and the memories of those traditions last a lifetime. I personally love the fun, silly traditions that always make us smile when we reminisce. For my family, it’s the plastic garden flamingo.
Before I share my story, I thought it would be fun to give you all a little history about the garden flamingo. You know, the plastic (shall we say slightly tacky) lawn ornament that many Americans love to put in their yards. The garden flamingo was first designed by Don Featherstone in 1957. The name Flamingo comes from the Latin word flame. Flamingos are one of the most famous lawn ornaments next to the garden gnome, and there are more plastic flamingos in the United States than real ones. The flamingo has become an icon of pop culture and can often be seen in restaurants, bars, and casinos from coast to coast.
My personal relationship with the garden flamingo began in the 1970’s after my grandparents moved from their suburban Park Ridge, Illinois home, to the seaside community of New Smyrna Beach, Florida. On my family’s first visit, we all walked out into the yard and there they were, two strategically placed bright pink flamingos, basking in the sunshine next to the pool. We couldn’t believe it, my grandparents had crossed over. Back then, little did we know those original birds would become permanent fixtures in the newly landscaped backyard. They would survive many storms, gale force winds, a hurricane, and of course the blistering Florida sun. For years, every May my mom and I would travel down for a visit, always joking about whether or not our “friends” would still be residing poolside…..They were. As time passed, my grandparents beloved flamingos began to show their age. Their vibrant pink color fading and cracking, until they were almost white. Their long skinny legs rusting in the harsh elements. Unfortunately, the hands of time did not stop there. Each year, my grandparents became more elderly and frail as well. I lost both my grandparents in 2004, both dying within six months of each other. So much is always lost when a loved one dies. Our girls trip to Florida every year was such a wonderful time in our lives, and now there was no one there to visit. As funny as it sounds, those silly flamingos were a large part of the laughter we shared there and we weren’t quite ready to let them go. So…..we decided to keep the spirit of my grandparents and their flamingos alive by giving the gift that keeps on giving. It all began with a flamingo ornament at Christmas. (We both now have enough flamingo ornaments to decorate an entire Christmas tree!) We then tried to out do each other every year, buying something a little more outrageous. Together, we have Flamingo Christmas decorations, cards, nut crackers, tea towels, water colors, serving platters, coffee cups…etc. You name it, we’ve found it. Here is just a sampling.
You get the idea. However, last winter I found the mother of all Flamingos. June and I were browsing a local vintage shop, The Lucky Junk Shop, when there before my eyes stood two vintage lawn flamingos. They were very sturdy, made from cement and although they have definitely seen better days, they were beautiful. The owner of the store found them in an old barn and unfortunately didn’t know their history. It didn’t matter though, they were mine and thirty minutes later, they were in the back of my car making the journey to their new home. I couldn’t wait to show my mom the new find. Now, they reside in my back yard near my pool. They are appropriately named Bob and Virginia after my grandparents, and the flamingo tradition continues.
What is your favorite silly family tradition?