Things I’d Save In A Fire*: My Velvet Painting

I grew up all the way across the country from my maternal grandparents.  They lived on a dairy farm and I lived in a subdivision, but every summer we would go visit them, and those three weeks were some of my very happiest times.  Vermont seemed like a paradise of dusty roads and clear lakes and root beer floats, and the old farmhouse that my mother grew up in and that my parents were married in and that my cousin was born in was always the same, and there was something so very reassuring about the set of Time Life books lining the staircase and the chest of drawers full of board games in the dining room and the bush beans in the garden next to the house.

The velvet painting of redwoods hung over my grandparents bed for as long as I can remember.  When I was little and before I knew that velvet paintings didn’t hang in the Louvre, I admired it longingly, noting the way that the velvet made the light come streaming through the trees.  When I was older and it still hung there and because I was older and so much wiser I knew it wasn’t what one might call fine art, and I think I made some flippant or teasing remark about it to my grandmother, and she said “Oh, I know it’s just terrible.  But it was the first thing we ever bought together, your grandfather and I, when we went on our honeymoon to California and we saw the redwoods.  We just had to have it, because of how it captured the light streaming through the trees.”

And can’t you just see them?  Over half century ago now?  Two just married Vermonters, on their honeymoon in California, standing close, gazing up at the tallest trees in the world.

I treasure that image more than I can say.

The dates merge a bit in my head, but after I heard the story, and when we knew my grandmother was dying, and when people were having “conversations” over who would get the silver candlesticks and the dining room table and the embroidered sampler from the 1800’s, I only wanted the velvet painting of the trees.  It was easier somehow, to let go of the rest of those things, to know that although I would lose my grandmother,  I’d have something of value to me, that was once something of value to her, even if it wasn’t worth much of anything to anyone else.

My parents packaged it up in many layers of bubble wrap and cardboard, as you’d pack something of great worth.  It arrived in perfect condition, and since I first received it, people have laughed at it, or tried to buy it, or simply asked about it, and I love those moments, because it means I get to tell the story again, of my grandparents, before those things we all go through eventually, the nursing homes and the petty betrayals and the depression and the strokes, gazing up, holding hands, young and in love, and buying bad art.

And now I am here.  The painting hangs on my wall, in my bedroom.  I have seen those same trees myself, and gazed up at them,  and my velvet painting does indeed capture the light streaming through them like nothing else ever could.

*with the obvious understanding that all people and animals were out safe and unharmed, etc.

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8 Responses

  1. “It was easier somehow, to let go of the rest of those things, to know that although I would lose my grandmother, I’d have something of value to me, that was once something of value to her, even if it wasn’t worth much of anything to anyone else.”

    This read like poetry.

  2. I love your piece of bad art – and the beautiful story that goes with it.

  3. Oh this is beautiful. The story – and the way you tell it – makes the painting worthy of the world’s finest museums.

  4. Love this story. My grandmother (at 92) has started to affix labels to things. I want the chair I remember her sitting in (same chair for almost 4 decades, lumpy, and re-covered countless times) but I don’t know how to ask, or if she’s already alloted it elsewhere. Also, maybe, her favorite battered cookbook.

  5. this is a beautiful post!

  6. The things I like in my house the best are the ones that have stories attached to them, not the ones that I say “I got this at Homegoods for $10.” The light looks amazing in that picture.

  7. My grandparents are clearing out the house they’ve lived in for over 50 years this summer and selling it. I hope I end up with something that has a wonderful story like this. I can’t think of anything I’ve had my eye on for years, though.

  8. I have a Scritchfield painting too! They’re extremely hard to find but are very beautiful. I bought mine 40 years ago when I was 15 years old as a gift for my mother when we were on vacation in southern Oregon. It was hanging on the wall of a restraunt connected to the motel we were staying at and the whole family was mesmerized by these beautiful painitngs that were for sale. When everyone else went swimming I went back to the restraunt and bought the painting and then managed to hide it in the car. Mom was totally surprised on her birthday when I gave it to her for her birthday a month later. When my mother decided to downsize I got it back and it hangs in my office at work where I can see it every day. Mine has a creek running through the redwoods.

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