This past December I drove home to Connecticut to join my family for Christmas. When I arrived, a bustle of activities and preparations were well underway. It was not going to be the relaxing, stress-free holiday I had been looking forward to. Luckily, I devised a plan to escape for an hour. My absence would not be too obvious; my mission was to deliver a gift. This brief errand would allow me to drive through the beachside neighborhood I grew up in.
Rounding an old familiar bend in the road, I fully anticipated seeing the Minuteman Monument at the turn off to the beach road. Instead, quite another view confronted my eyes. What came into focus was an otherworldly, plastic enshrouded object…..”What the heck”? I muttered indignantly. What had happened to the enduring visual and mental touchstone of my early childhood memories, now tightly bound with plastic and rope? Was my longstanding invincible hero, the Minuteman, finally succumbing to some band of 21st century captors that had managed to subdue him?
I slowed down and pulled my car over onto the shoulder. I rubbed my eyes and stared, inspecting this other-worldly vision. I consciously sorted through my reactions; grave concern, mixed with insatiable curiosity. What had befallen this treasured monument? Numerous questions arose as I grappled with disappointment over not being allowed to see my old friend the Minuteman. This sculpture, I realized, had possessed a benign but long enduring significance for me. Walking around the bound statue, I found a flyer that explained the mystery; a restoration project was underway. What was beneath the shroud, why did the sculpture require a plastic cover?
In slow motion I pulled my car back onto the road, juggling my questions and concerns about this strange turn of events for the Minuteman Monument. I also noted that most of the tiny seaside cottages typical of the beach area in my youth were now mansions…..where was I?
The following day, I decided to secretly return and take another look. With uncertainty, I rounded the corner and could see from a distance that the awful plastic shroud had been removed from the monument. Feeling relief and a new sense of anticipation, I would reacquaint myself with this wonderful sculpture that had been a constant sentinel throughout my younger years. Finally home and I would see my old friend again.
The shroud was indeed gone. I rubbed my eyes again, and stared….my old friend the Minuteman had been transformed; it was now a “new” old friend; its rich verdigris patina that time and age had developed, was meticulously cleaned from its surface. In fact, it had been completely erased! Instead was a dark, clean, streak and drip free bronze surface. It appeared new, “naked”, and as if it had just been cast. This was, I assumed, the original surface of the artwork when sculptor H. Daniel Webster had presented it, before over 100 years of seasons, storms, and atmospheric conditions (spanning dozens of childhoods), had ripened the Minuteman’s character into a multi-layered story told in rich layers of patina. I pondered how long it would take before nature would again take hold and release a new pictorial record of time….10, 30, 100 years, lifetimes? Gone were the residues and imperfections that had previously enriched his bronze body.
This Minuteman monument had now joined the many beloved architectural and sculptural old friends of mine which had been improved, changed, altered or removed. I was certain, good reasons were behind all of these transformations but, for me, no reasons seemed good enough to lose cherished old friends, and in this case, reconfigure their appearance.
As if to crown the Minuteman with a touch of humor and irony, a bright red Santa’s hat had been carefully placed on his noble head. I wondered how I could approach and remove this garish hat, but I realized it would only reappear again. As a visitor, only in town for a while to tour my old haunts, what right did I have to enact my own plan of change on the monument?
I headed back home to rejoin my family. As I drove, I began to search for more old friends, observing the icons of past years still standing faithfully, in case they would be altered or removed before I could return again. I noted the missing ones too. Old trees, old houses, old sculptures and monuments, the landscape, people, the marks of time, age and change, capturing and altering so many of them. I knew, in my heart, that I would have to be prepared to make room for more “new old friends”.
Caroly Van Duyn