We've all seen and heard stories of ordinary folks finding great treasures among their ordinary possessions. The premise of the PBS series Antiques Road Show is just that: appraising the worth of family treasures and lucky finds. I found my own family treasure last week, and although it probably doesn't have much antique or historical value, it's priceless to the Vance family!
Since the middle of August, I've been busy cleaning up construction dirt at the Guest House. Along with that, I've also been waxing and polishing furniture and going through boxes of household goods from Robin's Uncle Lohr and Aunt Alice. Those boxes have been patiently waiting for me to unpack them for ten years! I needed a mirror for over the bathroom sink upstairs, and was pleasantly surprised to find a big, old, beautiful one stored away that I forgot about. It was perfect!
Besides a good cleaning, the only thing the mirror needed was to be stabilized. It was hung with an unwieldy old wire and the backing looked like it would come loose at any time. I couldn't risk having such a heavy thing fall apart and/or off the wall, so I took it to a frame shop to have it taken apart and put back together properly in order to hang safely and securely. Little did I know what awaited behind that old mirror.
When I went to pick up the finished mirror, the clerk pulled out two packages for me. One was obviously the mirror: it was big, bulky, and very heavy.
It looked much better, and was ready to hang on the bathroom wall.
The other package was a large piece of cardboard, folded in half, thin, very light, and taped shut.
I was puzzled. I left only the mirror to be fixed, nothing else. The clerk explained that as she peeled off the old brown paper from the back of the mirror, there were several layers of surprises beneath. This was the first:
a very thin and bendable piece of wood
with two names written on it in pencil. One says, "W. H. Vance."
The other name isn't so easy to read. The last name is Fleming.
The first name is a mystery. I can see an "abel" but what is the first letter? Or is it "...abe" with a middle initial "I"? Can you make it out?
Beneath this flimsy board was a lovely vintage print. It's a bit tattered around the edges, but still in very good condition. I do love that iron bed!
But the real treasure was on the bottom. The back of it looks like some kind of loosely woven cloth.
Written on it is:
When the clerk turned it over, oh so carefully, to reveal this portrait, my hands flew to my face in surprise.
This is William Henry Vance, Robin's great grandfather! He fought in the Civil War, and he and his wife built the house we now own and operate as a Guest House. I had never seen this picture...didn't even know it existed!
We have several photographs of Will, as he was called, when he was an older man, taken well after 1900, but as far as I know this is the only one of him as a young man. How old do you think he is? 20? 30? 40? Unfortunately there is no date on the portrait anywhere.
As was customary, Will's expression is serious, but it's also intense. It seems as if he is trying to tell me something. His eyes look right into mine. If only this picture could talk!
Just imagine if old portraits could talk! I wonder what secrets they would spill, what family legends they would debunk, what tales of hardship, strength, and love they would tell. But they remain forever silent.
Once this wonderful portrait is settled into another frame, I'll find the perfect spot for it in the Guest House. And every time I walk by, I'll say hello to Will, and wonder what he would tell me if he could.