Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Legs

When I was a teenager, my mother brought home a pair of mannequin legs. Not the entire mannequin, just the legs from the hips down. She found them at the thrift shop for three bucks. They sat, flat severed hip section down, on a side table in our living room for weeks. The feet pointed to the ceiling, like an upside down pirouette frozen in time.

People would come in to our home and jump back. "Woah, that scared me. Are those legs? From a dummy? Really? What is wrong with you people?" I too was curious why my mother brought them home. She said she just wanted them. She wished it was the entire mannequin, with or without the head, which was even more enigmatic. "We could set her up in the corner of the room. We could get a cigarette holder and dress her like Joan Crawford. Can you imagine?" No, I couldn't, but I guess I could see her point. Mommy Dearest in the corner would be, um, something. The three of us would circle the disjointed legs, squint at them, step back. What the hell are we going to do with these things? And yet all of us, the angry teenagers usually crippled with ennui and the working single mother, wanted to do something with them. Something artsy and profound. Something important. Something surreal.

My mother is a consummate thrift store shopper and auction devotee. She would get up early on weekend mornings and head out to an old farmhouse with her large cup of coffee. She would wait for "the box." That is it. Just a box. They never listed what was in it, and I suppose that was the point. You could get crap, or some rare antique kitchen item. At these old Pennsylvania farmhouse auctions where they are clearing everything out, they load up a box and put it up with the word "Kitchen". Sometimes she would bid five bucks or ten. It didn't matter how much, it was all about the story that the box told about people she would never know and a community in which she didn't belong. She has an entire drawer in her kitchen devoted to the old mysterious kitchen tools she collected from those buys.

Some evenings after the dust of the day would settle, my mother would fix a glass of wine and pull them out. "What do you think this was for? Making baby food?" And we would speculate on the use of the rickety dented old thing. My mother is not American, so the objects, potato ricers or fancy butter scrapers, common in rural-ish Pennsylvania, intrigued her. Wood. Metal. Decorative holes. Practical. Beautiful. Oddly shaped. Many years after I moved out of my mother's house, I asked her if she ever found out what those tools were. "Some," she said. She was fascinated by the prosaic uses of such fascinating objects, but more she liked the story she could tell about each piece. I still love leaning back into a dining room chair with a glass of wine as she invents histories never lived.

It began slowly with the legs. First my mother put some old stockings on the legs that were not quite grey and not quite black. The legs seemed more naked with just the stockings on--no panties, no skirt, no shoes. Cripes, that is depressing. Someone put a skirt on her. Then, some drastic heels no human woman could wear but somehow ended up in our house. Depending on one's particular mood or whim, the legs would be dressed in varying states. The trick would be to dress them and set them up when no one else was home. I often came home to find them set up in the corner of the room with a pair of stripper heels, a disconnected garter belt and one thigh high stocking. Who the fuck is feeling that twisted today? Personally, I was prone to covering them in ripped fishnets, slutty skirts and combat boots; while my mother, depending on her particular state for any given day, might put on some cream hose, sensible work shoes, and a nice pleated skirt that fit no one in particular. The legs became our banshee scream in the aloneness of a house full of women. When my sister was feeling particularly lonely, she would dress the legs like Mrs. Roper, long 60s large flower print skirt, beaded belt and espadrilles wedge my mother hasn't worn since 1978. I would find her huddled in her room, listening to Pink Floyd, smoking cigarettes. "Come on, dude. Let's go get some coffee."

Despite our clear inclination towards immaturity, the legs were never in compromising positions. They were just dressed up. Reflective. Staid. Eventually, though, the legs leaned, starkly naked, against the wood paneling of our rec room. Discarded and sneered at by the lot of us. "Why do we even have those legs in our house? It is so creepy. Mom is so weird."

The legs no longer serve our needs.
The legs no longer speak for us.
The legs are nostalgic for a time when they had a body.
The legs are more trouble then they are worth.
The legs need a torso, some arms, a neck and a smile.
The legs are not our communication device.
The legs are just macabre.
The legs are not us.

My mother still has the legs. They are wedged in her garage between some boxes, covered in spiderwebs, still pirouetting. Eternally pirouetting. Eternally naked.


  1. I loved those legs. I can't help but think if I had those legs in my house now, it would constantly be in flannel pj bottoms and crocs...and definitely be a coffee cup table, following me around whenever I needed a place to rest my mug.

  2. Angie, your mum sounds so cool. Lol. I love it.


  3. My mom's quilting group had a giant, life sized rag doll named Ima Quilter. It was at our house once and my friends and I dressed it up as a stripper. That picture went into the quilting newsletter.

  4. Thanks for making me laugh. I had a roomate who was clothing designer who had a "body" manikin (I don't know the correct term). I being a hairstylist had the head. We had our very strange "girl" in our living room where the two of us also changed her clothing and did weird things to her hair. It was quite the conversation piece when friends came over. It scared the hell outta most people which made us laugh even more!
    I think I would really like your mom.

  5. And I continue to be excited when I see you've posted a new something on here :)

  6. I love the way that the legs let you communicate with each other at a time when it sounds like nobody felt much like talking, and that they let you be silly when there wasn't much a lot of lightness in the air. Maybe we need a pair here.

  7. Your moms sounds like an awesome mom. Besides, I love her thrift-store missions. I do those too and am equally intruiged by the story behind these objects. What were they for? Why were they discarded? Who owned them before? I could write a book about this...

    Love it. Thanks... xoxo

  8. Danielle, totally. I think that is why I was thinking of them and wanting to write about them. I miss those damn legs for being an ersatz family counselor.

  9. i should get a pair of these for my stepdaughter so she can alert us to her mood each day! loved this piece, angie. i can see this as a chapter of a fantastic memoir that i would someday love to read. xo

  10. Great story and great post! Thanks fro sharing the leg.

  11. Beautiful post.
    Love your style. It's so clear and endearing in it's honesty.

  12. Thanks for sharing this story, it totally made me smile.


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