Sometime in the middle of last century, she saw a painting with a frame she liked at a garage sale. She told her husband there was something special about it, but he didn’t want to spend the handful of small bills.
So after he’d passed out at home, she did it her way. She went back to the garage sale and bought the painting, which she strapped to the station wagon’s roof and brought home.
That driveway purchase hung in her living room for decades, through the birth of her grandkids and the rise of her manufacturing business, before the truth surfaced.
An Italian artist, born in the late 1600s and trained under Il Matese, had painted the scene of the mythological slaying of Argus sometime in the early 1700s. He’d flourished as a landscape painter, but died in his mid-thirties, apparently from Mercury treatment of venereal disease.
Oh, and the painting belonged to Napoleon.
Not Napoleon Dynamite.
And she bought it at a garage sale, after refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer.
I’ve heard so many stories like that about her, revolving around the risks she took, the big wins and sometimes bigger losses, the hardscrabble no-bullshit depression-era approach that made her a tough one to please.
Unless you were her grandson. There’s a photo of me as a toddler sitting in front of that painting in her living room, and I’m smiling like I’m at Disneyland.
Which is what her house, and her love, and everything about her, was to me.
She would’ve been 103 today, but she died the morning of a For The Sender show a few autumns ago. I got the news by the river behind my friend’s house, and later that night took the stage with my heart in my hand, hoping I could honor her somehow.
Someone told me that the moment I started talking about her, a hawk started circling over the stage. She landed on a branch above me as I told the audience that she was the only grandparent I ever really knew, and that she had just passed away that morning after over 100 years here.
She stayed on that branch as we played ‘There’s No Goodbye.’
And she took flight.
A hawk has been circling the sky around here almost every day, which is a bit worrisome, because that’s likely how we lost a few of our chickens. I think she may live in a big eucalyptus tree on the edge of the property, because I’ve seen her retreat to the same branch several times to lay in wait. And last month, she was literally perched on the chicken coop, staring at her potential dinner under the fickle wire cover.
Happy Birthday, Grandma.
Leave the chickens alone.
Oh, and that painting with the frame you liked is in good hands.
I’m looking at it right now.