Family Matters: Rose Clark comes for Easter Dinner

I’ve had this oversize plastic bag with the Zeller’s logo on it for several years now. I think it was given to me when my favourite aunt died partly because I am the family member who keeps track of the family history and partly because no one else knew for sure the identity of the persons whose photographs were in the bag. There were three women and one man. For several years the bag remained in one closet or another and, because it was large and awkward, it would occasionally pounce upon me from above my head as I tried to retrieve something else of more general “use” about the house. Each time it fell I would look inside the bag and think that something should be done about the contents: the pictures were quite old and one or two very badly damaged by water before I even became the guardian and they were becoming more and more brittle and small chunks of pressed cardboard material would break off the corners and edges when they were handled or, more likely, when they pounced upon me.

On one of these occasions I removed the photos (they averaged 15 inches by nineteen inches in size) and tentatively identified the persons. I concentrated at first on the one photo of a young girlClara Steele about 10 years of age: it had been shaded and lightly coloured with pastels and the young lady(see right) looked somewhat dreamy-eyed or romantic if you will. I thought she might be my grandmother but the features were not quite right. The other folks were older: a woman in her late twenties or early thirties perhaps and a woman in her fifties or early sixties and a man probably in his sixties. After searching through the materials I had collected on the family I determined that the young woman was my great grandmother, Rose Clark and the two older adults were her parents. The young girl was a sister of my grandmother and so a great Aunt of mine. I was fortunate to have all their names and their birth dates and more.

So what to do with Rose, Harriet, Robert and young Clara? That was the question. I took the pictures to a nearby commercial establishment that both sold art and did framing. What I had thought might be the best answer was to use a dark oval frame and a convex glass without a matte. The glass would not touch the surface of the photograph and thus protect it from any further damage. This would be a fairly expensive venture: each photo would cost approximately $400 if the same frame and glass were to be used for each. Well, four at once was prohibitive and so I chose to have my great grandmother done first.Rose Clark I had known her personally as she was alive for the first 13 years of my life and I went on Sunday afternoons to visit her with my grandfather. I remember her in her kitchen with the old trap door in it through which my grandfather would go to check when there were plumbing problems or to get wood for heating. I also remember the dining room and sitting there in the winter time and the little desk with a cloth curtain in front of the bottom shelves where there was an odd collection of books and a few toys in a basket that must have belonged to my grandfather’s nephew. I would sit on the floor and go through these items while my grandfather would talk to his mother. I wish I could remember just one of those conversations. I am sure some were about local politics and taxes and such like.

I think these big pictures, at least three of them, might have hung in the front parlour (a quite small room for such a dignified designation) which we never sat in but were allowed to go in and sit on the stiff old horsehair chairs.

I went by the house very recently. It is now unrecognizable except to someone who was once a visitor. It has been completely covered with a light coloured siding and several of the windows have been replaced and trimmed in a magenta coloured paint. On the back of the house there has been a small extension added, probably to make a more practical entrance. Below the house an area has been dug out and leveled and a 2-car garage has been constructed. There was once a chicken/pigeon house although not quite so far from the house as the garage is now. There was no sign 0f it with its Victorian trim around the second story painted in a dark green. It seemed so strange to think that the people who live there or the people who walk by have no idea of how it once looked and how it looks in the photographs I have in my album.

When I left the art shop with my great grandmother wrapped carefully in brown paper, I felt good about taking her home and hanging her up on my dining room wall in time for Easter dinner. I feel especially good about having removed her from the Zeller’s bag and put her back into a family setting. Her parents, one set of my great great grandparents, I will perhaps have packed in acid-free foam board and sealed up to protect them while I gather the financial resources required to get them framed. My great aunt’s photograph(the young lady above right) I will try to pass along to a direct descendant whom I have traced to the town in which my grandmother lived most of her life. I am hoping that descendant will welcome his great grandmother into his home.

Our Lady of the Lost and Found by Diane Schoemperlen

This is one of my favourite all-time reads and I have enjoyed re-reading it again in the months following Heavenali’s Month of Re-Reading in January 2013. One of the epigraphs for this novel comes from Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye and part of the epigraph is:

“…she was a Virgin of lost things, one who restored what was lost. She was the only one of these wood or marble or plaster Virgins who ever seemed at all real to me. There could be some point in praying to her, kneeling down, lighting a candle. But I didn’t do it, because I didn’t know what to pray for. What was lost, what I could pin on her dress. 

I paint the Virgin Mary descending to the earth, which is covered with snow and slush. She is wearing a winter coat over her blue robe, and has a purse slung over her shoulder. She’s carrying two bags of groceries.  Several things have fallen from the bags: an egg, an onion, an apple. She looks tired.”

And this is from Our Lady of the Lost and Found:Our Lady of

“There was a woman standing in front of the fig tree.

She was wearing a navy blue trench coat and white running shoes. She had a white shawl draped over her hair like a hood. Over her right shoulder she carried a large leather purse. In her left hand she held the extended metal handle of a small suitcase on wheels that rested on an angle slightly behind her like an obedient dog.

Fear not, she said.

I was too stunned to be scared. I put the watering can down on the coffee table and stared at her.

It’s me, Mary, she said. Mother of God.

I must have looked blank. She went on, smiling.”

Her going on consisted of listing a number of the official designations given her such as Queen of Heaven and Daughter of Zion.

And so begins this remarkable one week visit by the Virgin Mary to the home of another very ordinary woman in an ordinary town who writes for a living and lives a quiet, simple life. During the course of the visit, the reader learns a great deal about the Virgin Mary and her position throughout the world in various cultures and of her various appearances such as that to a wealthy widow in Walsingham in 1061, to another widow, Petruccia de Geneo in Italy in 1467 and to twelve-year-old Eugene Barbedette and his ten-year-old brother Joseph in 1871 in Pontmain in northwestern France. The information is presented in very palatable segments labelled as History or Knowledge or Sightings and these are balanced by sections about ordinary shopping expeditions and preparation of meals or about things like the coincidence that both the narrator and her visitor are re-reading The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende. If you are a book person you just have to adore this part about reading a book about two people reading another book that you want to get out immediately and start re-reading yourself! Such a simple joy!

From the book jacket: “An absorbing and inventive novel that redefines our notions of fiction and non-fiction. Our Lady of the Lost and Found is an inspiration to believers and non-believers alike. Perhaps its greatest achievement is that through the narrator’s touching friendship with Mary, we learn as much as she does. We come to understand that in our desire to believe in something larger than ourselves, it is our own doubt and uncertainty that makes us perfect candidates for faith.”