In the Parlor
For as long as I could remember this landscape hung over the fireplace of my grandmother's parlor in Bridgeport, Tennessee. That's because it was placed there shortly after Grandpa built the house in 1922, long before I was born. It had been a gift from a lady that I knew in my youth only as Miss Jo.
Miss Jo had a big old mansion with huge columns on a gallery that overlooked the French Broad River. When I was a kid my cousins and I used to skinny dip in the river at her farm and steal apples from her orchard, but that's another story.
Grandma said that Miss Jo had given her the painting in gratitude for her help in nursing her sister during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic.
On a visit one day in the late sixties I noticed a huge empty spot over the mantelpiece. In the middle of the night the painting had fallen to the floor and four holes had been ripped in the canvas. Grandma had carried it to the attic for two reasons. It looked pretty sad and she was somewhat superstitious. A fallen painting was a bad omen.
When I told her that I would really miss seeing it there, she said that, if Mom's six sisters had no objection and I wasn't afraid of it, I could have it. I was thrilled and gently placed it in the back seat of my Volkswagen for the ride home.
I hung it in my own parlor and was proud of it even with its blemishes.
Mom suggested that I talk our friend Nell (Eleanor McAdoo) Wiley to see if she could suggest a repair. She examined it and said that it would be relatively easy to make it good as new. In return she had been meaning to talk to me about a favor that she needed.
Her sister June had ordered a collection of classical music LP's and they had brought out the old Victrola and cleaned it up in anticipation of the delivery. They had played some of their old recordings only to discover that the volume of the machine was barely audible. If I could fix it for them she would be glad to repair the painting.
Victrola was right. The machine was a genuine 1908 Victrola capable of speeds on or near 78 RPM and the only amplification was provided by the acoustic horn built into the exquisite cabinetry. Nothing had happened to the machine, the ladies had all simply become 'hard of hearing' down through the years. I made a trip to Musicland, a shop owned by a friend who sold records, stereo components, and modest portable stereos. I bought them a nice little Zenith portable stereo and they were thrilled when the records arrived.
And the painting? Nell said she had finished repairing it and then made another hole it in as she tried to position it back into its frame. She told me that it could very well be by an artist in the Hudson River School of the mid 19th century. It is unsigned but she said that was normal for members of the group.
Three of the four repairs are easily spotted but the fourth can only be detected from the rear of the canvas.