It's Wednesday June 19, 2013
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Dressing a goose is usually not for the faint of heart. It can be a grisly ordeal, part of prepping the bird to be someone’s dinner. In Oriental, however, dressing a goose has come to take on a kinder, gentler meaning. For this goose, being dressed involves pinafores, wigs, a graduation gown, hats, and even a wedding dress.Gertie in one of her wigs.
This goose’s name is Gertie, but she won’t answer to it. She won’t even crane her slender, smooth neck. Gertie, concrete to her core, does not move.
She has not moved much in the decade she has spent in a cemetery on Silverbrook Road. There, Gertie has worn an ever-changing set of outfits, while standing by the grave of Oriental resident, Betty Patton. She’s become part of the scene. Drivers will slow down so they can look — a few headstones in from the Silverbrook Road asphalt — to see what Gertie is wearing now.Gertie in her cap and gown during graduation season last year.
The question quickly comes up. Why? Why dress up a goose.. and in a cemetery, no less? The answer is that it’s one family’s way of keeping a memory alive.
Even if you didn’t know Gertie’s back story, a concrete goose dolled up in a summer frock and a wig of flowing ringlets does bring a smile. And for doing that in a place where there are few smiles, Gertie, the concrete goose, is Miss July – the Pet of the Month.Gertie as seen at Betty Patton’s grave this week.
Gertie changes outfits every few weeks, depending on the season or events in the calendar. She’s been a butterfly, worn a rain slicker, a lot of dresses. And just about always, a smartly styled hat makes the outfit complete. But Gertie is more than a clothes-goose.
She is Betty Patton’s head stone.
Those who have lived here or have been coming to Oriental for several decades may remember Betty Patton. Her daughter, Beth Millman, says that Betty was “a waitress in Oriental’s restaurants. She was one of the original waitresses at The Oriental Marina Restaurant, along with Lucille Truitt and Nell Daniels.”
Betty Patton also worked at the Trawl Door — in its first incarnation, a few decades ago. Beth says her mother “ended her working days with Brantley at The Village Restaurant in 1999.”Gertie after metamorphosis in to a butterfly.
This is where Gertie the goose comes in – at Betty Patton’s retirement.
“Mom was always a big crafter — crochet, knit, sewing,” Beth Millman explains. “So when she retired, my brother and his wife thought Mom would like to have a goose to make outfits for.”
Betty “fell in love with” the goose, and named her Gertie. But that plan for her to make clothes for the goose never came to fruition. “For some reason, Mom didn’t make Gertie the first outfit,” says Beth. “She did love to dress Gertie in “store bought” clothes, though.”Gertie in a poufy sleeved back-to-school dress.
She put the goose in her yard on Broad Street and “loved dressing it for special occasions and holidays,” Beth says, “She even would go outside, if it was raining, to put on the rain coat.”
Beth Millman savors that memory. “I love that.”Goose as Pilgrim. One of the many seasonal outfits for Gertie.
Betty Patton’s time with Gertie was relatively brief, less than three years. Betty died in 2001 at the age of 72 and was buried at the Silverbrook Road cemetery. An etched stone, set in the ground, marks one end of her grave. At the other end, is Gertie.
“It was an easy decision to take her goose out to her at the cemetery,” Beth Millman says. She and her brothers, Butch Hardison and Billy Patton, “decided the goose would make a better head stone than a marble one.”
“I couldn’t be there to watch over her,” Beth says, “so, the goose would just have to do it.”Gertie marking the head of Betty Patton’s gravesite.
By then, the goose already had a reputation in town, from the two years Betty Patton had dressed it up in her yard.
Beth Millman says that when the family held an estate sale, after her mother’s death, there was a lot of interest in buying the goose that had graced Betty’s yard. “Many people asked where the goose was, that they wanted to buy it, that they had enjoyed it and loved when there were outfit changes.”
“Well, that didn’t make me cry too much…”Gertie in a pink frock.
Since her mother’s passing, and Gertie’s protective vigil at Betty Patton’s grave, Beth Millman has been continuing the tradition her mother started. She gussies up Gertie for the holidays, the seasons. That goose is never naked. She is always wearing something.
Beth started out using the outfits her mother left behind but, the elements and the sun take their toll on the clothing and they wear out. Beth figures that in the decade “since Gertie moved to Silverbrook” she has added 25-30 outfits to the collection.Gertie this winter, under the faux mink coat and hat.
Her favorite outfit is Gertie’s “mink” coat and matching faux fur hat, which the goose sported this winter. “It reminds me of the ‘good old days’ when the old ladies at church would wear their furs to church,” Millman says. “If it smelled like moth balls, that would be even better.”As seen from above.
Some of the outfits signify a more personal connection. Last spring, when her daughter Megan graduated from Central Carolina Community College with a veterinary medical technology degree, and her son Jeffrey received his PhD from MIT, Gertie wore a cap and gown. “My mom would have been very proud of her grandchildren and I felt like I was sharing it with her,” says Beth.Goose as graduate.
Then this spring, when Jeffrey was getting married, Gertie wore a white wedding dress and veil. At her side was another goose, in a black tux, ruffled white shirt, red bow tie and top hat.
The groom is a goose that Beth keeps in her own front yard on Gilgo Road, in his own set of outfits (he was wearing a Hawaiian shirt recently) His name is Bubba and Beth says she has had him for about 10 years. He joins Gertie on occasion.Bride and groom.Close up of the couple.Somewhere along the way, Gertie’s beak got chipped, leaving her with a a more blunt profile. “I had thought about buying a new Gertie,” Beth Millman says, “but it just wouldn’t be the same.”
But mainly, Gertie is a solo act, and that’s how she is now — sporting a summer frock, her hair blowing in the wind — along with a chipped beak smile — as she stays by Betty Patton’s side.Gertie and her summer hat.Gertie’s Bio
Celebrity Pet Most Resembles: Callista Flockhart
Dislikes: Birds who sit on her head
Likes: To make people smile, to have her picture taken in her outfits
Favorite Person: Betty Jane Patton (RIP)
Favorite Song: My Betty Jane by Mugdown
Favorite Game: Duck, Duck, Goose
Favorite Presidents: Washington, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Jefferson (Gertie admires Mount Rushmore)
Favorite Female Role Model: Statue of Liberty
Favorite Food: Sandwiches
Least Favorite Food: Foie gras
If she could talk, what she would say: “Honk”
Most thankful she doesn’t have to wear: Pantyhose
Ancestral Homeland She’d Most Like To See: Portland, Maine or Portland, Oregon
Favorite Movie: Fly Away Home
Know a pet that is a standout? Send in some details and a photo to email@example.com. Tell why that pet deserves the coveted TownDock.net Pet of the Month Prize Package --- accolades, a pat on the head (snakes excluded) and a box of Milk Bones ( or snack suitable for the species).
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Animals caught near the HarborCam attempting to suck up to the judges will be disqualified.