Sunday, January 1, 2012

Baby, It's Cold Outside

I’m Growing Warmer Now… (inspired by the 1843 American folk ballad “Frozen Charlotte” by Seba Smith) – Black wood-framed shadowbox; Epsom salts; beer; Plexiglas; artist’s board; colour print of snow woodland scene; colour print of Currier & Ives sleigh; colour print of underwater ice; colour print of frozen woman

January 1st.

The New Year’s come in and the winter winds are ablowin’…

A whole brand new 365 days stretch out ahead of us (actually 366, since 2012’s a Leap Year).

Time to reflect on the past; time to plan for the future.

Maybe a time to make some of those New Year’s resolutions—you know them, the good intentions we make, lose a few pounds, get in shape, spend more time with the kids, the wife, the hubby, to slow down, not let things bother us so much…

Yeah, those good intentions that are usually forgotten by dawn on January 2nd.

And remember, Hell is paved with good intentions…

Maybe another of those good intentions should be to follow the advice of your elders—like Mom who’s always after you to be careful, eat your vegetables, to cross at the green, or to wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident, and don’t talk to strangers, don’t make that face it might freeze that way, or if you fall out of that tree and break your leg, don’t come running to me.

Yup, you should always listen to your mother.

And I’ll tell you, fair Charlotte should have listened to hers.

Fair Charlotte was a country gal. She had her share of swains, all waiting for the chance to court the comely young maid. One handsome youth vying for her affections tempted the Fates by asking if fair Charlotte would be willing to accompany him to a New Year’s Eve celebration in the village, some fifteen miles away from fair Charlotte’s humble cottage.

And fair Charlotte said yes.

That night, fair Charlotte attired herself in her finest—her satin party dress, her silken cloak and scarf, her bonnet and gloves; she was a beauteous sight.

Sleigh bells were soon heard as her escort rode up. Bowing low, he greeted fair Charlotte, kissing her hand, leading her toward the door and the bitterly cold darkness that lay beyond the threshold.

Then came her mother’s voice:

“Make sure you bundle up, dear daughter! Wrap the blanket tight around you! ‘Tis a dreadful night tonight!”

But fair Charlotte shook her head. “Nay, mother! My silken cloak and my silken scarf are more than enough to keep me warm. No one shall see my finery if I am covered!”

Saying so, she stepped into the sleigh. With a crack of a whip, they were off.

In only a few miles, fair Charlotte’s swain began to grumble of the cold, the ice beading his brow, numbing his fingers. But all fair Charlotte could manage was a single shivering sentence:

“I am exceedingly cold.”

The swain whipped his steed faster, the sleigh flying through the snow, and soon, alas, all fair Charlotte could utter was a faint whisper:

“I’m growing warmer now…”

At last the sleigh reached the village, it skidded up to the ballroom, all aglow, with sounds of laughter and merriment coming from within. Fair Charlotte’s beau leapt from his seat, and put out a hand. But fair Charlotte moved not. He called her name once, twice, no answer came.

For fair Charlotte was now frozen Charlotte…

…stone, cold dead.

This Edward Goreyesque cautionary tale was first published in 1843, and quickly became one of America’s first fads—long before hula hoops, or yo-yos, or Cabbage Patch Kids, or Beanie Babies, or Tickle-Me-Elmo. It was set to music and sung in theatres, dancehalls, and candlelit parlors. It was read to children, to scare them out of their wits—or at least into obeying their parents. And just as with any good fad, there were those all ready and waiting to cash in—so country store and city shop were soon stocked to the rafters with “Frozen Charlotte” dolls. They weren’t much, it must be said—just a simple, standing naked little white bisque figure, molded cheaply, all in one piece. They ranged in size from about an inch all the way up to a foot-and-a-half; the smallest ones found their main function in being charms cooked into Christmas plum puddings.

But, exactly as with pet rocks and Rubik’s Cubes, the “Frozen Charlotte” craze waned, leaving behind a glut of the various-sized dollies. Manufacturers were left high and dry, with an inventory of thousands of the little vacant-eyed porcelain zombies. Then some bright, enterprising soul somehow convinced the booming housing industry that the dolls made for excellent—and more importantly, cheap—insulation, and all that unsold supply vanished from company warehouses.

They can still be found, those “Frozen Charlottes”—hundreds of them, thousands of them—stuffed in walls and in-between joists and behind chimneys in old homes throughout the country.

Maybe we have found a practical purpose for all those dusty Cabbage Patch Kids and dog-chewed Beanie Babies and laughed-out, drained-batteried Elmos after all.

Who knows what the next fad will be, but believe me when I say, there’s probably another right around the corner.

Fair Charlotte…oops, frozen Charlotte should have made a New Year’s resolution to heed her mother’s advice. It was probably on her list of “things-to-do” for the coming year, but, sadly, she never got around to it before those hardhearted Fates gave her the cold shoulder.

So, before it’s too late, make sure you take note that, like it or not…

…your mother’s always right.

Happy New Year!!