Friday, November 13, 2015

Who Is This Man??

It happened again! Pretty much just like before. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, click HERE to read about the first time. So here's how it played out the past two days, this time on my side of the family.

See this pretty picture frame?

It's an old one that came to me when my sisters and I emptied our parents' house last year.

It hung in the dining room, over the buffet, for as long as I can remember, and probably longer. As far as I knew, it always held this Currier & Ives scene.

This is actually a piece of heavy fabric. I decided to replace it with one of my photographs, so I took it to the framer's to have it put together properly. These big old frames are so heavy, and I wanted to make sure it was hanging securely on the wall. I dropped it off yesterday morning, shopped til I almost dropped, and picked it up before heading home. Sure enough, along with the frame, which now contained my pretty photo, there was this cardboard folder containing the Currier & Ives scene.

I loaded both in the car for the drive home. It was dark when I arrived, I was tired, and we had an overnight guest that needed supper. Consequently, the frame and cardboard folder lay unattended until this morning. I unwrapped the frame and tried to hang it, but it was too heavy to manage by myself, So I turned my attention to the folder, thinking about what to do with the fabric scene. After pulling it out and looking it over for a minute or two, I turned it over. The fabric had been stretched around something and taped with masking tape, which was coming loose in several places. No wonder; it had been there for decades.

Supposing that the fabric had been stretched around some kind of sturdy paper, I investigated a little further, pulling the tape completely loose on one side. I wondered if there was something on the other side of "paper" form.

Sure enough, there were two pieces of I removed the fabric to find this familiar print.

I've seen this image many times. It must have been very popular in its day. I'm guessing this one came off an old calendar. But underneath it was the real treasure!

Another old portrait! The only thing is, I have no idea who this is! And alas, Mom and Dad are no longer here to ask. To my knowledge, he doesn't resemble anyone on either side of my family. Several years before her health declined, my mother put together an inventory of the antiques and heirlooms in the house, and the entry for the picture frame didn't shed any light on this man's identity:

Since my grandfather bought the frame, it could be that this portrait came with it. If so, that would explain why Mom covered it up.

It's a shame there was no name on it anywhere, just a few numbers on the back:

Unless one of my two aunts knows something about this, I guess this handsome gentleman will remain a mystery. But what fun to discover another old portrait! You just never know what could be hiding behind a picture.  Maybe you should go check your old frames...

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

In Honor of Those Who Served

Back in June of 2012, I wrote a post about the two veterans I knew best: my dad and my father-in-law. Both are gone now, and they never saw each other again after that last visit.
In their memory, and in honor of all veterans, I'm sharing that post again.

* * *

Two Old Soldiers

Two old soldiers met today, to sit a spell and visit. They shook hands and greeted one another warmly, glad to have one more opportunity to be together.

Both were young farm boys when they went half way around the world to fight a war. One was headed for the Army's infantry and the other for the medical corps.

Bill was a first sergeant in the 34th Red Bull division, and fought his way from Salerno to Cassino, in Italy, going without a bed, a hot bath, or a hot meal for three months in the fall of 1943.

Bruce was a medic with the 42nd Rainbow division, bandaging up and transporting his wounded buddies across Austria and Germany, and making life or death judgement calls as to whom he could save and whom he could not.

But today, they were just two old widowers in their nineties, sitting on the porch and talking. It puzzled me as to how, when they are both deaf as a post, they could hear each other easily.

They talked about a lot of things: the weather, gardens, family, the War, the President, and how the young people have a lot to learn. They talked about being old, and the challenges they face in simple things, like walking and negotiating stairs, picking up a glass or cup without a spill, and eating spaghetti gracefully with a spoon.

And they talked about how, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, they believe there's no place like home, and nothing better than sleeping in your own bed. When they came home from the War, both men married and raised families, Bill with a career in the Postal Service and Bruce farming land that has been in his family for generations. They didn't know each other until one's youngest son and the other's youngest daughter married each other, but they soon found out that comrades in war make easy friends.

When their visit came to an end and my father and my father-in-law parted company, it was with another firm handshake and the usual pleasantries of taking leave. But the unspoken words hung thick in the air:

"Life is hard for us old soldiers. Hold on. I hope I see you again."

Miss you, Dad.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall...

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.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Home Stretch

It's been a while since I last showed you the progress at The Guest House. I'm excited to say that we're "in the home stretch" now! The contractor and the electrician have finished up and the plumber should get the bathroom fixtures in tomorrow.

I've been busy with all the cleanup. One of the biggest jobs has been to clean the windows. There were twelve to clean, and now I have only one left. Whew! This afternoon I scrubbed a little on the sidelights around the front door, just to see what the old glass would look like when you can actually see through it. Not bad!

The stairs are beautiful

and the old telephone has found a home at last.

Our first post-renovation guests arrive September 10, so my goal is to have the downstairs all clean and ready for this couple, who will be celebrating their anniversary. 

The parlor, which is now a bedroom, has a new queen-size bed

and a dresser, among some other small pieces.

Grandfather's room, which is now the living room, has furniture as well:

And wonder of wonders, the dining room is now a dining room! The bed has been moved upstairs, and the dining table is in place, although it is covered with all the odds and ends of cleaning right now. But the corner cupboard is ready, dishes and all.

There's still a lot to be done, but the end is near. It won't be long until folks can once again enjoy this wonderful old house - all of it! Won't that be grand? Can't wait for you to come!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Going Caving

I attend a yoga group on Monday mornings. Today, some of us went on a field trip to The Salt Cave and Spa. What an adventure!

This unique spa is located about five miles north of White Sulphur Springs, WV, home of the famous Greenbrier Hotel and more recently, the Greenbrier Classic PGA tournament. The owners are from Romania and they created this man-made cave and spa by the side of the road in rural West Virginia...go figure!

During my father's final few years, I frequently passed this place as I traveled back and forth from my Highland County, Virginia home to where I grew up, in Union, West Virginia. I watched its construction with great curiosity, having no idea what it would finally become. A home? Underground storage? A survival bunker? But no, it's a spa! The lobby is an experience in itself.

They offer massage, yoga, aromatherapy, reflexology, and a host of other services, but we went to experience the salt cave. Apparently, there are many benefits to breathing the air in this environment. The cave is beautiful, but it's also made of tons of Himalayan pink salt.

To enter the salt cave, walk by these soothing lights and turn right at the green tree. There you'll find a bench to sit on while you remove your shoes and put on clean white socks. Then you open this door and enter the cave.

Besides the dim lighting, the first thing you notice is the floor. It's covered with salt "gravels" that are supposed to massage your feet as well as contribute to the salty environment. It's like walking in sand, only more difficult because the gravels are pretty rough (maybe my feet are too tender?) and they're deep. Noticing the floor is only momentary, though, because this is what you see:

Now, these photos taken inside the cave are a little bit deceiving. The lighting is wonderful and soothing, and wraps around you like a soft blanket. But it is not this orange. It's more like a soft pink. I don't know why the photos come out like this, but I noticed the photos on the spa website look just like mine, so I don't think it is due to my photography skills, or lack thereof.

We were encouraged to get comfortable in the lounge chairs, relax, breath, and be quiet. After the initial chatter died away, it was easy to slip into a drowsy place and just soak in the peacefulness.

 The temperature is a comfortable 70 degrees, quiet music fills the air, and when you look up, there's a ceiling full of possibilities to ponder.

All too soon, our 45-minute session was over. Some reported a slight salty taste in their mouths. Others, like me, quickly noticed it was easier to breathe in the cave. Sinuses and lungs felt free and open, making deep, full breathing effortless.

As we emerged into the light of day, all agreed our salt cave experience was well worth the long drive. Thanks, ladies, for a delightful adventure!