Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Girl With The Mystic Smile

My parents just returned from a wedding in Charlottesville, Virginia. A son of one of mom's best friends from college was getting married.

During their wedding trip, my Mom and Dad went to visit my Aunt Nancy and Uncle Allen in Richmond. Allen is my mom's younger brother. Never have you meet a sweeter or dearer man. He is always doing something thoughtful (see Dorin Family Photo post) and family means the world to him.

And this weekend was no different. He did one of the most wonderful things EVER. But to tell you about it, we must go back to give you the history....

When I was in 9th Grade, my grandmother got sick. Brain Cancer. I came home from seeing the "Pirates of Penzance" movie on my 14th birthday and we got the phone call about Grandma. For years, my birthday was mixed with happiness and sadness from that memory. We lived in Atlanta and my mom went back and forth to Virginia a lot that year because my Grandfather also had a stroke. Then my grandmother got sick a few months later. I look back and don't know how my mother got through it all.

It was also a very trying time for my Aunt and Uncle. After realizing how much my Grandma and Papa needed 24 hour care because of their illnesses, my uncle decided to build a house with an In-Law suite. Allen moved my grandparents into the house at Cardigan Circle and with it came all of their belongings. One of their most prized possessions was a framed charcoal portrait of my mother. It was drawn by my Great Aunt Frances in 1948, when my mother was 6 years old. My mother never loved the picture because of the way Aunt Frances drew her mouth. But when you look at this portrait, you cannot deny what a beautiful child my mother was. Beautiful blond hair in two braided pigtails. Kind eyes and a mysterious smile. A smile that makes you curious about what she must be thinking. A smile that is slight and not overly happy. My mother was never fond of attention and I wonder how she enjoyed having a picture of her by herself. I used to stare at it and fantasize about what mom was like when she was a young girl.

This picture needed a special spot in the sunny family room on Cardigan Circle. My uncle Allen decided to group THREE pictures together: DEE, LEE and the FAMILY TREE.

DEE is the picture of my mother - Dee is her nickname.

LEE is a picture of General Lee. My uncle was obsessed with the great Virginia Confederate commander, Robert E. Lee. And James Brown and The Dallas Cowboys (but that is another story :)

THE FAMILY TREE is a picture that my mom remembers as being my Great Grandmother's family tree.

I can see them now and can visualize exactly how they looked on the wall. I remember them because that was the Spring I said goodbye to my grandmother for the very last time. I remember so many small details of that trip. The peridot ring, the perfume owl, grandma with her bald head in her scarf, the darkened bedroom and her hugging me so hard to tell me to be a "good girl" for my mom and dad. My heart broke into a million pieces after that sad farewell. Grandma and I shared such a special bond and I still miss her to this day.

Years after my grandmother died, my Aunt and Uncle built a house on Patch Terrace and with it came the three pictures, but my mother's picture was moved to another room in the house, away from General Lee and the Tree.

When we were in town for my Cousin's wedding, we went into Allen & Nancy's bedroom to look at photos and to see how it was decorated. My mother noticed the portrait of her on their wall. She joked and said "Allen? What is MY picture doing in your BEDROOM?"

Now...almost a year later during their visit to Virginia this summer, my uncle gave my mom her picture. They were saying their goodbyes and he said "Here! I think you need to have this." and behind the picture, my mother noticed an envelope. She totally forgot about it until last week and decided to open up the letter. I think it was fate that she read it away from the confusion and chaos of their departure. It just would not have had the same meaning. So in the quiet of her house in Georgia, my mom read this special note from her loving brother who lived in Virginia... and fell apart. She read it to me and I fell apart. So dear. So sweet. So....Allen.

Here is what it said:


Hanging around for over a quarter of a century in her brother's family home.

She'd seen much...probably a little too much.

Does she remember all that has occurred over her watch?

Was she smiling with delight, smirking judgementally, or sighing with melancholy at what she viewed?

Most likely all that and more.

Does she remember her parents last days in the family room on Cardigan?
Perhaps with the melancholic face, a mixture of fondness and regret.

Does she remember her niece Katie's arrival?
Surely with a look of joy, although not excessive.

Or having to share stories from onlookers with Lee and the Family Tree.
Undoubtedly a detectable glare of jealousy.

The last visit of relatives past, Abbie and Branch.
Farm grown Christmas Trees, wood stove fires, numerous Halloween costumes.
Plays directed by Whitney and starring Katie, not to mention parties hosted by their parents....
ahh, the secrets she will keep behind the mystic smile.

Weary from her watch of youthful activities at Cardigan.
Her keepers retired her to their bedroom at Patch, a much less active environment.

Sharing the wall with her mother's namesake, a beloved family dog.
Her mystic smiling face peered for many years over the television faithfully viewed each night by her sister-in-law.

Never aging, always watchful, incessantly smiling....or not; only Aunt Francis knows for sure.

Thanks for the loan. Keep the tradition of her vigilance alive.

Allen Jr & Nancy
June 7, 2009