A rather ugly oil painting hangs above the fireplace in my apartment. It’s a dingy still- life of a pot of flowers in one of those ornate period frames. I don’t know much about art, but even I can see that it’s, well, amateurish. You might ask why I would have such a white elephant around much less display it in a prominent place. The thing is, it belonged to my eccentric great aunt Narrye. Everyone in the family wanted to get rid of the horrid thing when she died. For reasons I wasn’t sure of at the time, I stepped in to become the the paintings’s self appointed guardian. Now, after years of hauling it around through multiple moves, I’ve developed a stubborn affection for it.
Perhaps it’s because my great aunt, like me, never fit into the family tradition. I grew up in a conventional East Coast family. It was expected that everyone would go to college, then get married and, if you were a man, pursue a stable career. If you were a woman you’d have kids and be a good wife and mother. Your marriage would last forever and your children would be polite and successful. As you can imagine my life doesn’t come close to fulfilling this vision
My great aunt was different too. I only visited her once when I was a child. She lived in an exotic part of the world known as Colorado. She had never married and lived alone. There were unconfirmed family rumors that she had been in love all her life with her married boss. The summer that I visited her I slept in a room decorated with photos of her riding camels in India. Her closets were filled with exotic clothing like ermine-tail capes and beaded velvet gowns. Perhaps best of all though, was the jade paperweight on her writing desk with her initials engraved in sterling silver on the top. It had previously been a custom crafted gear shift knob for her yellow convertible Packard.
It gives me a certain comfort that this dauntless woman was the relative for whom I was named. It’s like having a bit of company while traveling in a foreign land. I hope I inherited something of her spirit and independence along with her oil painting. And yes, I salvaged the paperweight too.