This is Tillie:
And this is Tillie’s creator, Jessica DeStefano:
When you lose your job the same week your man is moving back to the mid-west, it’s important to avoid sitting in your apartment listening to Amy Winehouse. Luckily, I have friends who are inventive in their distractions. Jeffery is one of the best. Last Friday we ordered Dominos and spent the better part of a thunderstorm on the National Sex Offenders website entering in the street addresses of all the places we’ve ever lived. Turns out I roomed two doors down from a pasty pedophile in the East Village. For an entire year. Also, a lot of rapists live on Montague Street. No one cheers me up quite like Jeffery!
Which brings me back to Tillie. After a few glasses of chardonnay and a serious discussion of Britney’s psychological state and its necessary corollary, Sean Preston’s yellow teeth, we turned to a 1986 issue of the now defunct magazine McCall’s. McCall’s was a monthly women’s journal always available in waiting rooms, and to an adolescent girl, was a watered down Glamour. I wanted to read about 10 Ways to Please Him In Bed but wound up with a Muriel Hemingway interview or an article on decorative pine cones. When McCall’s gave sex advice it was inevitably tame and geared toward married women who had to take their kids to waiting rooms.
This particular issue of McCall’s, which Jeffery found in his parents house in Virginia, featured a full page ad for Tillie the Frog, a collectible porcelain figurine with a plucky backstory:
“Tillie the frog is not only a delightful figurine, she represents the eternal optimist. Tillie lost her pond when it was plowed in to build a mall.
Now she is homeless, but she keeps her spirits up with her positive frog philosophies. Her most famous one is: “Your dream may be a hop away so never give up til you croak.”
I don’t know if it was the wine, or the My-Lover-Done-Gone-And-Took-My-Job-With-Him honky tonk tune I’d been whistling all week, but I hated this frog and I hated the woman who made her. First of all, I don’t believe in eternal optimism. Optimism is hard enough, but optimism unending? There must only be so much that Tillie can take. And it feels half-empty, losing your job and your lover. Er, I mean your pond.
It occurred to me that times have changed since 1986, that it’s only old ladies who would ever order Tillie, that frog philosophy has gone the way of Frogger. But then Jeffery and I discovered Jessica’s website (she also sculpts Karma the Kat and The Gigglin Piggies) and an array of upbeat money-making Tillies, circa 2007:
I have concerns. Why does a frog need Doc Martins? Why is she friends with a little girl? If she isn’t friends with a little girl, then where did she get a little girl’s 7th grade yearbook photo? Jeffery wrote Jessica a letter, sincere and commendatory, because we believe her art to be in earnest. I would like to learn how to be an optimist (maybe an occasional one?) and also, if she is truly able to support herself on frog and piggy sculptures alone. And I think Jessica might benefit from my art. My Tillies would be giving the webbed finger to the mall contractor, or drinking Boone’s farm from a brown bag with some underage tadpoles, or listening to Amy Winehouse while looking up sex offenders who hang out at the concrete pond.
(This is me as a 1986 McCall’s Borden cow. Photo by Jeffery.)