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Monday, October 28, 2013

The Face on the Wall

When I was very little, my parents would make a cross-country trip to see my grandparents in Mexico. It was a 3 day trip, partly because my mother didn't drive and partly because many of the interstates weren't finished--or started.

The trip was a huge event for me. I loved my grandma and couldn't wait to see her. But there was one other lady I wanted to see. From my earliest recollections, there was a painting of a fragile-looking woman with light brown hair and blue eyes. She was my great grandmother.

I would stare at the painting sometimes all afternoon, wishing the lady in the picture would speak to me. I had a million questions.

My grandmother noticed my fascination (grandmas by nature are very smart and particularly observant). She'd tell me little stories about my great grandmother. She was from Spain, and yes, there was a big population of blonde-haired and blue-eyed Spaniards. (Obviously that gene skipped me completely.)

For such a tiny and frail woman, she seemed to have tremendous fortitude. In the 1870s, she left her home and sailed for Mexico with her new husband, never to see her own family again. Through this delicate little woman sprung an enormous new clan.

Every time I visited I'd pay my respects to my great grandmother. Her portrait always hung in a place of honor.

Over the years, I visited less and less, and finally not again until I was an adult with a new husband of my own. Once again, I looked for that painting. I asked my grandmother if she'd let me be the painting's guardian after she was gone. It was all but secured.

But when my grandma passed away, I forgot about the painting until many months later when I grew nostalgic. My mother made inquiries among the relatives but no one seemed to know its whereabouts. I was heartbroken.

Undaunted, my mom went for an extended visit to continue her sleuthing. The painting had been scoffed up by some of her second cousins. With no will, I had no right to it. At this point I even offered to buy the painting because it was so important to me.

The second cousins, suspicious now that it might be valuable, refused me outright. I never saw or heard about the painting's whereabouts again.

I hope someone is taking care of my great grandmother, but somehow I doubt it. All I wanted was to keep some token of her memory in safekeeping until it was my time to pass it on.

That delicate face haunts me to this very day.

Is there anything that haunts your memories?


34 comments:

Anne Gallagher said...

Oh my God, how devastating for you. I'm so sorry that you'll never have that painting.

Mine was a diaper pin my Aunt Elsie gave my mother when I was born. I used it one night to hold my coat together and I lost it. I searched high and low and never found it and it still destroys me to this day.

I do hope someday you find that painting. As an artist, is there any way you could recreat it?

Giacomo Giammatteo said...

You have the memory, Maria. That might be even better.

Maria Zannini said...

Anne: I thought about recreating it since I had learned painting by copying Old Masters.

One of my aunts went back to see if she could take a photograph of the painting, but the second cousins wouldn't let her in the door, saying they had sent the painting elsewhere.

It was really sad.

Maria Zannini said...

Jim: True. But I really wanted the painting protected. I hate to see fine art destroyed or forgotten. It's a part of my family history too. It would've been nice to hand it down in the family in a place of honor.

Cate Masters said...

Isn't that funny - my mother never drove either. It would make me crazy not to be able to go where I wanted when I wanted.
Sad to hear you weren't able to have the painting. I'm always amazed by the hardships and heartbreaks our grandparents and great grandparents endured.

Jackie Burris said...

When I was young came across a photo of my Mom at age 18 or so, wanted that framed head shot so badly as she totally looked like a movie starlet in it. Sadly it was destroyed from water damage years later and there were no other copies, still think about it every once in a while.

I wish your story ended happier Maria, it is hard when family members are so hard to deal with and you are right that was a precious heirloom!

R. Mac Wheeler said...


But you have a marvelous memory.

I never had any contact with the extended family. From either side. Know nothing about them.

I miss that.

Jennifer Shirk said...

Aw...that is a shame. I hope you find the painting someday.

But her memory lives on!

Mike Keyton said...

A powerful story, Maria. I have nothing comparable to offer - though burglars once broke into our Liverpool home and stole what they thought to be a jewelry box. It contained my three month old curly blonde locks. My mum was upset, me less so

Angela Brown said...

I can't say I have anything along those lines. It is sad that the painting is being kept from you because of thoughts of monetary value when it is something far more priceless you value.

Rula Sinara said...

Gosh, I hope that painting somehow makes its way back to you. You never know...

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I have virtually no memories of my grandparents. Pictures were few and far between and only of them when they were much older. I wish I had some.

Maria Zannini said...

Cate: I think it was part of their generation, plus the fact that in Chicago, it was inconvenient to have a car when there was mass transit.

To this day she never learned to drive. Now, of course, she's too old. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Jackie: I love the old pictures of my mom and dad when they were young. They were soooo fashionable and classy, not like I looked when I was that age. Ha!

Re: dividing the goods
That's the way of it whenever family dies. People swoop in like vultures, even people you'd never expect to do such things. Me, I wait for the dust to settle.

My mom gave me a solid gold bracelet years ago because she knew with me living so far away, it might disappear before her body got cold. :)

Maria Zannini said...

Mac: I'm sorry I didn't snap to how important it was to learn about my extended family until it was too late, so now I hang on to all I can.

Maria Zannini said...

Jennifer: I hate how nasty people can get after someone dies. When I die, (if Greg is already gone) whoever takes care of my dogs, gets the bulk of my estate.

In essence the dogs will inherit, and the caretakers will be the beneficiaries.

Maria Zannini said...

Mike: Aww, the burglars stole your locks and Mother Nature took the rest, is that it? LOL.

I'll bet your mother was upset. It's very disarming to be robbed. It makes you feel vulnerable.

Maria Zannini said...

Angela: My aunts say that these second cousins were very superstitious and didn't mingle with the rest of the family. I find it ironic that they got past their inhibitions to take the painting off the wall as well as some valuables.

Maria Zannini said...

Rula: Whenever my mother goes down there, I always ask about it.

It was just an old painting, probably painted when she was just a young woman. I don't know if it was high quality or not but to me it was priceless because of all the good memories it gave me.

Maria Zannini said...

Susan: That's sad, Susan. I'll bet you'll be sure to spend lots of time with your grandkids.

Grandparents are priceless.

Jenny Schwartz said...

Faces do haunt us. The old paintings reach across time. So silly that your cousins wouldn't even allow a photo, but what can you do? *shrugs* Family!

Maria Zannini said...

Jenny: I'm told they were elderly people and a little strange--even for my family. LOL.

Shelley Munro said...

I'm sorry your story didn't have a happy ending. Have you traced your family tree? You might come across another painting during your research. You never know.

My grandmother had this picture on her wall of a hawk that had another bird clutched in its talons. The thing used to give me nightmares as a kid.

Maria Zannini said...

Shelley: Isn't it funny the things we have in our homes that might mean one thing to us, but something else to a child?

raelynbarclay said...

Bittersweet Maria. You have wonderful memories and your retelling just drives home how treasured they are. And perhaps one day your great-grandmother's portrait will find its way back to you.

Years ago, when I was a nanny, I worked for a Jewish family. Grandma and Grandpa survived the camps. I can't remember now what the object was, but Grandma's childhood home was of course looted by the Nazis and this object taken. Years after resettling in America she was haunted by this loss. Of everything, she had to find this one thing. After she had exhausted all avenues to her, including a rather expense historical PI, she had to give up. It was lost to time. About ten years her telling me the story, a survivor foundation found some documentation which lead her to this family heirloom. She had no proof it was hers so it still hangs in a museum. But it was found. She knows it's safe and cared for and she can view it anytime.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

What a shame that you couldn't have received that family treasure.

LD Masterson said...

I was my maternal grandmother's only granddaughter. It was always her intent that I receive her set of "good" china when she was gone. In fact, several years before she died, she gave me the big platter that had always held her turkey on Thanksgiving. A couple months after she died my grandfather informed my mother that he had sold the house and moved into an apartment. My mom asked what he had done with all her mother's things and he told her he'd given everything to the church rummage sale.

That china wasn't particularly expensive or valuable but I was devastated. I still serve our Thanksgiving turkey on that platter.

Maria Zannini said...

Raelyn: I can only imagine how much that meant to that poor woman. It was a shame she couldn't prove it belonged to her, but at least it was safe.

Maria Zannini said...

Karen: Family. Whaddya going to do? :)

Maria Zannini said...

Linda: Oh, that would crush me too. I'll bet that platter is the most special piece you own from your grandmother. At least she had the foresight to give it to you.

Barbara Ann Wright said...

I hope they take care of the painting, too. Maybe they will if they think it's valuable.

I don't have anything I truly regret losing like that, though I've lost plenty of objects in my lifetime. I guess I regret more the things I left unsaid to people who aren't with us anymore.

Maria Zannini said...

Barbara: You said it! As much as the painting means to me, I regret more that I couldn't be with my grandmother when she passed.

Gwen Gardner said...

That is the saddest thing ever, Maria. I am the keeper of my family's genealogy (having researched it myself) and ended up with my grandmother's photos. I made a book of our family before she passed with the family tree and photos of every family member - with the cooperation of family who all sent me photos of them and their families. I gave it to her on her 90th birthday (from the whole family). All day long she kept asking me if it was really hers. She was that happy with it. Having raised me and my sister for much of the time, I loved her dearly.

Maria Zannini said...

Gwen: Good for you, Gwen! And what a wonderful gift you gave your grandmother. I'll bet she bragged about it all the time.

My sister is the real historian in the family. I'm just her sidekick. :)