ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — We all lost something in the pandemic.
If we are lucky, we also found a few things we needed and didn’t know we did until those hard, hollow days hit.
Maybe they made us smile.
Maybe they were a reason to get up each morning.
Maybe they reminded us that things were not entirely bad.
For the tidy neighborhood of Summit Park, that thing was Rooster.
Some called him Mr. Rooster, but that seemed too formal. One neighbor tried calling him Crowvid – clever, but the name just never stuck.
He was imported from Bali, hand-painted in reds and blacks and handcarved of wood, with articulated hocks and shanks that allowed his nearly 3-foot frame to sit, cross his legs, kick his feet in the air.
Laura Ferrell found it more than 25 years ago sitting in a shop window in Taos.
“He had a look both stern and mischievous and a sense of magic about him,” the Albuquerque psychologist said. “I immediately fell in love.”
When COVID-19 came, she thought that maybe she should share some of his magic with her socially distancing neighbors.
“I displayed him in my front yard, moved him around, dressed him up, and the kids seemed to enjoy that,” she said. “Then I found out it was not just the kids.”
Ferrell, a folk art collector, brought out a few friends for Rooster. Long-eared bunnies, seagulls, a Talavera frog, a goose one of the neighbor kids named Rainbow. She bought another rooster – or a chicken, she’s not sure which – crafted in the style of Rooster but with white feathers instead of his black, and smaller, with one of its legs broken off during shipment.
She created themes and scenes for her menagerie, adding clothing and props, some given to her by neighbors. Here was Rooster and his friends at a tea party, as pirates on the high seas, as superheroes, jesters, firefighters, knights facing a dragon made of cardboard boxes, graduates, Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Here was Rooster fishing, painting, riding a trike, reading a book, chasing bunnies with butterfly wings.
Every morning, she brought out Rooster and his friends. Every evening after sunset, she brought them all back inside.
Neighbors gathered outside, safely distanced, and smiled.
“The animals delight the neighborhood, especially during our long, lonely, isolating days of the pandemic,” neighbor Maria Szasz said.
And, yes, there were days when Ferrell just didn’t feel like doing anything. But then she’d think of Rooster and his fans, and outside she went. Some had told her that seeing Rooster’s latest adventure was the only bright spot in their endless, isolated days.
Rooster was her bright spot, too.
It had been a rough time. During the pandemic, she made the long journey to Texas to care for her ailing parents. Then her mother died and she worried about her ill father alone.
It was lonely at home, even with her husband there. Their son was grown and gone. They had no grandchildren. She saw patients through Telehealth. It all felt so empty, futile.
“I’ve often had the feeling that I should be doing more in life, something more important,” she said. “It sounds so silly, but when I have an idea for a scene for Rooster and the animals, figure out how to put it together so it looks the way I imagined it, and then others smile or even giggle, I feel like I am doing something more important with my life.”
Rooster was important.
Then last Monday, he was gone.
A neighbor said he noticed things were amiss around 7:30 p.m. but thought Ferrell might have already started taking in the animals for the night.
Also missing was a large turtle, painted in lifelike fashion with green shell and red ears. He had been a gift, a friend, from a family in the neighborhood.
Ferrell had always known there was a risk of theft.
“People like to see the animals up close, so they’re right there near the sidewalk, and I wasn’t going to stop putting them out there because of the risk,” she said. “So many people have beautiful things that go on shelves and gather dust. Their owners originally buy them because they feel this sense of magic that art can inspire. But then the magic fades as they sit on a shelf. In my yard, they were magical again. It just seems wrong to choose putting them on a shelf again so they will be safe.”
Most of the neighbors who learned about the loss of Rooster and the turtle expressed shock, sadness, support. Someone left flowers. Others left mournful notes in chalk on the sidewalk. “We want you to come back,” one note read. “I love you Rooster” another said.
“The entire neighborhood is devastated,” neighbor Szasz said.
Ferrell is too. But she is hopeful that one day someone will spot Rooster and turtle at a flea market and will return them. If that is not to be, she hopes Rooster continues to spread joy wherever he lands.
“I like to imagine, should Rooster not find his way home again, he will be found by someone who sees the magic in him,” she wrote to her neighbors with chalk on the sidewalk. “I like to imagine someone’s grandchildren whispering secrets to him, giggling and perhaps sharing a cup of tea.”
Ferrell is off again to Texas to care for her ailing father. But when she returns, her critters will be back out there in the front yard for their next adventure, for the smiles, for the joy of it all.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Reach Joline at 730-2793, firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook or @jolinegkg on Twitter.