Monday, September 29, 2008

Portrait of a Lady

Well, she is gone. Out of my life. Adios. Hasta la vista.

I know she has gone to a better place. Being housed in my barn took a toll on her.

An early bird at the Califon town yard sale last week bought the mid-nineteenth century portrait of a woman that I acquired at an auction years ago. I paid a hundred bucks for her. She hung for many years in our living room before being banished to the barn.

It was 7:30 AM and I was getting ready for the sale that kicked off at nine. I was just pulling the furniture I planned to sell out of the barn when a black Mercedes pulled up the lane. Out popped a petite middle-aged woman who immediately began poring over the furniture I had just dragged out. “I’m not interested in any of this,” she declared while slipping past me into the barn. “What else are you selling from in here?”

The lady, hanging in a dark corner, seemed to shout: “Me! Me! Me!”
“I suppose I could part with the portrait,” I said. She was interested.

We took her out into the daylight for a better look. She’d seen better days (the portrait that is). Some mold had grown on her nose. The layers of dust and grime hid the great swaths of paint I had inadvertently removed in an ill-advised cleaning effort.

“I suppose I could take a chance for $100”, the early bird said. Sold and she and the lady were gone.

I texted my daughter, Elisabeth, that I sold the lady. She immediately fired back: “No way!!!”

Elisabeth always hated and was spooked by this painting. When she was little she would not be in the living room alone with her ladyship.

The portrait shows a middle-aged woman with curls piled on her head and with what I would describe as a forlorn expression, neither menacing nor severe. To me she always resembled a depressed Joan Baez after a bad perm.

Elisabeth was not the only one uncomfortable with the painting. Most of her friends shared her unease. In fact, we later learned that several older girls declined to baby-sit for us because they thought Joan Baez was giving them the evil eye.

So she was replaced by a non-threatening portrait of a child and packed off to the barn.

There she hung for a few years. Kathie felt that it was foolish to hang a potentially valuable painting in the barn and, now that Elisabeth was a few years older, we should find a place for her in the house. We decided on the upstairs hall. In those days, with the long commute, I usually didn’t get to these kinds of projects until after the kids went to bed. So I fetched the picture, took down the one in the hall, and replaced it with her ladyship.

Later, in the deepest, darkest night, Elisabeth awakened, troubled by a dream that the woman in the portrait was chasing her. She got up to go to the bathroom for a drink, turned on the hall light, and came nose to canvas with her nemesis.

She let out a scream that would not only have awakened the proverbial dead, but would have caused him to run for his life as if he had one.

Twice in my life I have been awakened from a sound sleep to find myself standing in the middle of the room. The first time was during my childhood when the abandoned house across the street blew up. This was louder.

After we quieted the poor child, I traipsed out to the barn with the portrait in tow and there she has hung until last Saturday.

Elisabeth called shortly after the early bird and her prize had left. “I am so glad you got rid of that picture,” she said. “It has a really weird vibe. I am sure your luck will greatly improve now that she is gone.” Hold on sec. I am in good health, retired, and supported by a working wife. What’s so bad about my luck?

Anyway, I expect to see the Baez ancestor again. She will either show up at my door with a note from the early bird begging me to take her back. Or worse, I’ll see her on Antiques Road Show all primped up and worth thirty grand.


Finding Fair Hope said...

You got rid of the thing this close to Halloween? Don't be surprised if the purchaser ends up using it as a way to keep trick or treaters away.

marylois said...

Funny that I'm identified as Finding Fair Hope. That's a really old screen name from one of my almost-defunct blogs. Oh, well, let it stand.

Anonymous said...

"To me she always resembled a depressed Joan Baez after a bad perm."

Hysterical! Now I want to see it. I love old portraits and photographs and once crammed every available space in one of my early post-college apartments with old p0portraits! Weird, now, but it had its charm! LOL

Mark Lipinski

Mary Lois said...

I kinda thought this post need an illustration myself...but since the picture is gone, it might be a bit awkward to dredge up the buyer and pull out the Blackberry and snap one. Can you find a reasonable facsimile?