Uncle Walt has more garden tools and decorations than anyone Howard knows, especially gnomes. After his birthday, he’s sure to have even more. This year, though, Howard wants to prove he’s got a little more imagination than most of his family, but he’s still stuck on what to get his Uncle. There has to be something different he can get for his gardening relative, but he doesn’t know what. An internet search turns up an odd little shop within driving distance.
Faded grey script on an ancient yellow sign proclaimed, “Garden Gnomes ‘R’ Us” with the ‘R’ stereotypically backwards. Underneath, a smaller but equally faded caption read, “The Very Finest In Personal Outdoor Ornamentation.” Protected from the sun by yellow cellophane, several dozen of said decorations in an astonishing array of clashing colors and unnatural postures stood in the window.
Hands in his pockets, staring at the gnomes, Howard dreaded stepping inside. But he’d run out of ideas. Living in a four-room house with more than five acres of lawn and garden, Uncle Walt had every lawn and garden maintenance tool known to man plus a few he’d invented himself. The only thing left was decoration, not that his uncle didn’t have a lot of that already. Howard tried not to worry about how many other people would have the same idea.READ MORE
A bell jingled when he opened the door and again bouncing closed against the frame. Inside the crowded and jumbled shop, Howard found not just garden gnomes, but all manner of strange creatures carved from wood and stone, some painted bright and garish colors, some unpainted and unfinished.
“May I be of assistance?” The raspy voice came from Howard’s elbow. He turned to find a little man who, given a pointy red hat and a small fishing pole, could have passed for an oversized gnome himself. Had his back been straight, he might have been five feet tall. Bright blue eyes peered out of a wrinkled face with a fringe of white hair on all sides. Howard guessed his age at somewhere between eighty and two hundred. A small name tag on the left lapel of his rumpled brown suit jacket offered the name Ed.
“Mmm, maybe.” Howard took a breath and found himself a little embarrassed. “I’m looking for a gift.”
The old man grunted. “Ha. Of course you are, lad. No one comes into a garden gnome shop to buy for themselves. It’s practically a law of nature. What kind of gift were you after?” He shuffled over to a counter and turned back to face his customer, waving as expansively as his ancient muscles permitted. “I’m sure you’ve noticed we’ve got more than just your garden variety gnomes here.”
Howard winced but Ed grinned. “We’ve also got gargoyles, roof goblins, tree trolls, yard fairies, and I can probably dig up a flamingo or two if you’ve a mind, though they won’t be pink and aren’t really in keeping with our style.”
Howard shook his head. “No, thanks. I doubt Uncle Walt would appreciate a flamingo.” His eyebrows pulled down. “What’s the difference between a gargoyle and a roof goblin?”
“The angle they sit at.” Ed held his hand out, palm up. “Gargoyles sit flat, maybe on a ledge or against a wall,” -- he turned the palm to face Howard -- “even in your driveway, but that’s not really the idea.” He tilted his hand and made sloping motions. “Roof goblins are built so when you bolt them to your shingles they sit level, or close.”
“Hmmm. I don’t think he’s a goblin kind of guy. I should probably stick with something gnome related, but he’s already got about fifty of them and I’d really like to do something different.”
“Fifty!” Bushy eyebrows shot up. “How big a yard?”
“A bit less than five and a half acres if you subtract the house.”
Ed scratched his nose while he stared past Howard. “Hmm. Sounds like he’s approaching critical mass.”
Waving the scratching hand, the old man chuckled. “Old joke. Older than me, even. According to legend, if you put enough garden gnomes together in a small enough area, they ‘wake up’. You know, come to life. Obviously not true, though. Look at this place.”
A vision of an army of garden gnomes rising up to take over the world drifted through Howard’s head. He laughed and shook the thought away.
Ed went on. “You’re right, though. He’s probably got plenty of gnomes already, but we’ve got a good selection of accessories if you like.”
“Sounds like a place to start.”
Three crowded aisles and a tight turn later, Howard stood in front of a shelving unit loaded down with gnome paraphernalia. Fishing rods, donkey drawn carts, giant mushrooms, or maybe toadstools, miniature houses shaped like giant mushrooms, even a frisbee of all things. He pointed to a not quite mushroom-shaped pedestal that could have been a bird bath if it had been taller, thinner, and able to hold water. “What’s that?”
“Hmmm?” Ed followed Howard’s finger. “Oh. That’s called a Shrine.”
“A Shrine? Not like a–”
“No, no. Of course not.” An inverted smile pulled half the wrinkles of Ed’s face down towards the corners of his mouth. “Although that was sort of the marketing idea when they first came up with it, but it’s just something you use for a display focal point. You put a mushroom or some such thing on top of it and have a bunch of gnomes standing or dancing around. Ties them together so they aren’t just scattered all over the lawn, standing around looking stupid.”
Howard lifted one side of his mouth. “Sort of a social gathering place for gnomes.”
The wrinkles reversed directions and Howard saw a flash of teeth. “You could say that. Don’t think anyone makes them anymore.”
“Hmmm.” Howard looked over the shelves one more time. “Well, let’s go all the way then and give the gnomes something to enjoy. I’ll take the Shrine, one of the smaller mushrooms, and four gnome-sized mugs.” He pointed to a lower shelf.
“The makings of a fine back yard pub. Shall I wrap them up for you, sir?”