The reincarnation of Gonzales, the scarecrow

Living in Andalucía does not always mean sunny skies. Actually, this past winter was pretty tough, particularly on our scarecrow Gonzales. He was often left alone for weeks on end, standing up to rain, sleet, hailstorms, and even two weeks of snow and below freezing temperatures. By the time spring came, he was all skin and bones, his clothes were threadbare and his nose had gotten a nasty frostbite. Things were not looking good.

As if this wasn’t bad enough for poor old Gonzales, in early May we had five straight days of nearly hurricane force winds. By the time we managed to get down to our community garden to assess the damages, it looked like a tornado had passed through, flattening almost everything in it’s wake. And where was Gonzales, we wondered? Had he quit on us? Run for shelter never to return? We looked around our piece of land, though there was really nowhere he could have hidden there. Continuing the search into the neighbouring gardens, we found him in Salvador’s weed-filled plot, lying face down, immobile, and dare I say, nearly dead. I picked him up with outmost care, mumbling comforting words while I leaned him against our largest rosemary bush (the one where the lizard family lives), while we did some basic damage control. My husband suggested that we leave Gonzales in the garden for me to fix him at a later time. What!, I exclaimed. How could he be so insensitive? There was no way I would do such a thing. We could not abandon our poor, traumatized scarecrow now, having just experienced the biggest blow of his life to date. The wind had broken his leg straight off (he only ever had one…) and thrown him at least twenty meters. Gonzales was in a critical condition and would have to be tended to immediately or this would be the end of him. It was time for drastic measures.

Safely at home, I propped Gonzales up in a chair to let him come to in his own time. He sat there in shock for days on end, not uttering a single word. He had always been a quiet fellow, but nothing like this. I realized that life-altering surgery was the only thing that would revive him. Actually, he needed a complete face and body reconstruction, in other words we were speaking virtual reincarnation. Such a diagnosis is not easy to break to anybody, let alone to a severely distressed hurricane victim. He might have had complete confidence in my surgical abilities in the past, but the past days’ ordeal had made him lose faith in humanity, as well as his maker. In the end, I saw no other solution than to take out a large pair of scissors and some sharp wire cutters and go to work.

It was nearly four years since Gonzales came to life (One scarecrow year equals about a decade and a half in human years, depending on the climate). Now, there was nothing left of the rebellious youngster that he once had been. In fact, when I started to dismantle his body, piece by piece, it became clear that basically everything had to go. His head, once so full of visions and artistic temperament, had gone soggy. His green mop hairdo was bleached and lifeless. His once broad shoulders had gone limp and his chest was completely caved in, in spite of the fact that a swarm of wasps had created a rather sizable hive in his lung cavity. Even his heart was gone, I do not know where.

In the end, all I could save was his button eyes, his nose material (polishing cotton), his pale mouth with two front teeth (the teeth made from the same mop as his hair), as well as his old moustache. Everything else, including his spine, his broken arms, the shredded clothing, a selection of dead bugs suffocated in the plastic bags that contained his upper torso and his sad little brain, all went into two giant garbage bags and was dumped in the containers up the street.

I put his few facial remains loose on the table. Don’t worry. I can do this, I told him, silently hoping I wasn’t promising more than I could keep. I gladly admit that I am an awful seamstress, but I am an excellent mock artist, able to put things together creatively, shaping them into suitable forms. Just don’t look too closely at the stitching. In addition, I have many years of experience doing brain and body surgery on teddy bears and other stuffed toys. Indeed, one can almost call me an expert at soft tissue incisions. Therefore, I was fairly confident that I would be able to get Gonzales back to life again, albeit in a new incarnation.

The first thing to do in such a case is to get supplies. It felt only appropriate to me that Gonzales’ revival should be a communal process (Always the socialist…). It was far too easy to just go out and buy whatever I needed. That would be cheating, like purchasing an instant Halloween costume. The new Gonzales had to be born from transforming things I already had at hand, or by using what I could find and inherit from friends and neighbours. As the word went out, contributions came in. Juan Lu, the greengrocer in the square gave me hard packed shrink-wrapping, which became Gonzales new head and torso. Pedro the local ironsmith gave me a rusty long metal pole, cut to size right then and there, to become Gonzales’ new spine and uni-leg. The centre where I give a weekly English class to bratty 6 year olds donated a bright yellow T-shirt and our friend Rosa even came with wardrobe changes and clothing options for him. I particularly liked a pair of pants discarded by her police-constable husband, as I hoped those would give Gonzales back some of the confidence that he had lost during that fatal spring.

On a sunny day I took Gonzales’ spine and all the other scarecrow-making paraphernalia onto our lower terrace to put him together. I had already made his chinless head, covered in four layers of spice-coloured nylon stockings (there is a use for those dreaded things, after all). Without boasting, I would say that I had given him an excellent nose job, reviving his most recognizable facial feature. His mouth and eyes were also in place. He was starting to look rather dapper. I had also unearthed a pair of authentic 1960’s eye-glass frames from a collection I bought from a closing optometrist in Montreal almost 30 years prior. Who would have thought that those frames would end up in rural Andalucía?

I zap-strapped the head onto his spine, hoping it would remain in place for years to come. On the spot, I decided to give his greying moustache a trim to commemorate his survival with a fresh new look. The hair was the next item to deal with. I had already dyed a salt and pepper mop-head to be stitched on, but I rather liked his new bold look. There is something to the saying Bold is Beautiful, I suppose. In the end, I chose to forget the mop and just give him some dried esparto grass fuzz (matching his moustache) around his non-existing ears. I do not know why, but ears have never seemed necessary for our scarecrow. This could possibly be something to be added in his next reincarnation, though by that time, he might be stone deaf and not need them anyhow.

As I went on to build the body, I pinched our broomstick handle to use as his arms. (My husband doesn’t mop much, so he will be the last to notice.) A heavy plastic bag was a perfect receptacle to contain his new rather hefty beer belly. Sliding his stick arms back and forth, I was able to put on his XL T-shirt, which later was augmented by black mock suspenders. The last touch made him look a bit more like a farmer, so he will fit better in with his rural surroundings. After sewing on his pants with a hurricane-sized needle and thread, I fastened a wide strip of candy-caned kitchen towel around his neck as a scarf. The latter was to cover the plastic ties and stitching that held him together, as we certainly do not want anyone to suspect that he is not real!

All that remained was to add some headgear. I could of course have used one of our old straw hats, but since we were quickly approaching the zesty Andalucian summer, I decided to go with something a bit more gay and festive. I dug into our shed, that is whatever I could reach from the door, and found a disposable respirator. By cutting off the tell tale elastic straps and adding some bright paint, it became a rather groovy scull cap. After dousing it with a protective layer of varnish, I sewed it carefully onto the top of his head.

Thankfully, Gonzales came out of the surgery without any complications, though his rock and roll days were definitively over. He was still himself of course, only a more mature, refined version. He presented a bit of an intellectual professor air, like a distant relation to Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle or a brother of Groucho Marx. The next morning, he travelled in style back to the community garden. We gave him a spot at the lower part of our plot where he will be able to oversee our growing crop, while enjoying the sweeping vista of the old town of Ronda. Truth be known, in the world of scarecrows, Gonzales is pretty much living the dream.

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