by Mike McHugh
It’s always big news when a famous celebrity dies. This year, we all mourned the passing of icons the likes of Leonard Nimoy and B.B. King. As a fan of both “Star Trek” and blues music, I was as saddened as anyone. Yet this week, I came across what was for me perhaps the most disheartening obituary so far this year, when I read about the passing of Don Featherstone.
“Don who?” I’m sure you’re asking, and I wouldn’t blame you. I’d never heard of him either, and it’s a shame, because this artist is in my mind a true unsung hero of popular American culture. Indeed, it’s impossible for me to fathom what our landscape would be like if not for his creation. It’s grown to become as prominent a staple of Americana as the Thanksgiving turkey. I’m talking about none other than the pink plastic lawn flamingo.
Although everyone is well familiar with this paragon of front lawn tackiness, I’d never considered that the thing actually had an inventor. It had been around so long, I thought that maybe God had created it as an afterthought while he was resting on the seventh day and gave it to Adam as a gift to display in the Garden of Eden. If that were so, it’s likely that Eve plucked it out straight away and tossed it in the garbage. (And you thought it was a measly apple that got her in trouble with the Big Guy.)
I know she would have done it if she were anything like my wife. Every time during our years of marriage that I’d so much as mention the idea of getting a few flamingoes for the yard, she’d look at me as if I’d just suggested decorating my daughter’s bedroom wall with a border depicting the Playboy logo. On the whole, it’s probably good that wives often get the final say on such decisions. If it were not for Martha Washington’s good sense, the pink flamingo could well have won out over the eagle as our national symbol.
You might wonder if Mr. Featherstone ever worried about how many spousal arguments his creation may have spawned, but from what I read, he probably never gave it a second thought. It’s reported that he had a great sense of humor, as he had to in order to come up with such a design. “People say they’re tacky, but all great art began as tacky,” he once said in an interview. Given some of what passes for art these days, I’d call him a visionary.
The story also mentioned that Don Featherstone was a humble man, never talking much about his magnum opus. That’s completely understandable, considering how many garden clubs likely had a price out on his head. That he died of natural causes at the ripe age of 79 is something that informants in Federal witness protection could only dream of.
I’d be remiss if I failed to mention that pink flamingoes have their good points. For one, it gives rednecks an affordable—and certainly more attractive—outdoor decorating alternative to salvaged bathroom plumbing fixtures.
So, guys, what do you say we all go out and stick a pair of flamingoes out in the yard in Don Featherstone’s honor? Certainly our wives can’t object to us giving him a proper send-off. Don’t cringe, Michelle; I think a few of them would look nice out on the White House lawn.