Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Story Fifty Years And More In The Making


The Front Porch Of The Baisden House, Roseland, Florida
2010

So maybe this isn't that much of a story or maybe it's just a story to me but it seems like a thing which has knit up ends of at least a tiny border of a my life.

When I was five years old, my mother escaped (there is no other word for it) from Chattanooga where we lived with my drunken father. He was the sort of drunk who would go off for days and weeks at a time, leave my mother and two children with no money, and when he was home, he was often mean, I think, and I remember him threatening her and then he got a gun and then he almost burned the house down and finally, she put aside whatever pride it was she had and with the help of her minister, she took my brother (who was about three) and me down to Roseland, Florida, where her parents lived.

I know this had to be incredibly hard for her. Her father had been against the marriage from the first and when she married my father anyway, Granddaddy told her that she had made her bed and now she could lie in it although I feel quite certain that he didn't mean it to the extent where her health and safety and the health and safety of his grandchildren would be in jeopardy.

How odd it was in those days. Mother had known my father since they were in first grade, maybe before. And yet, she had never known that he drank. She says now that if she had spent ONE night with him before they got married she would have known and never married him. I do not know if that is true but if she had lived with him for a few months, she probably would have known. And I never would have been here and so what? Someone else, eventually, would have.

But she didn't know until he left her on her honeymoon to go off drinking with his childhood friend, Moses Jumper, and she hung on to a bad, miserable, dangerous marriage for years because that's what you did in those days and she finally left him and we fled to Roseland where my grandparents had retired from Lookout Mountain, Tennessee. There were, at that time, other couples living in Roseland who had come to spend their winters there, at least, living in small cottages and growing citrus in their backyards and going out on the river in boats and getting together to play cards and having their little cokes at sunset.

And here we came, this woman of thirty-two and her two small children and the first thing that happened was that Mother ended up in the hospital with pneumonia and my brother and I were in the care of these very old people (or so they seemed to us) and when Mother got better, she wanted, for whatever reason, to go swim in the ocean every day and it was crazy because it was January, February, and even in Florida, the Atlantic was cold and rough but one of the women who lived down the road would go with us and swim with her, and bless her for doing that. Kay Baisden was her name, and she was married to a man named Frank, and Kay fascinated me because she wasn't like anyone else. Frank wasn't either and although he scared me a little, I loved to go to their house for tea in the afternoons and I loved that house. It was an old grove house and not the least bit fancy (no one's houses were fancy in Roseland) but it was beautiful with wood and art and it smelled like no one else's house and I think that Kay wore beautiful skirts and jangly bracelets.
At least she did in my imagination, and her hair was pinned up on top of her head and she was kind.

Even as a child, I knew there was something different about Frank and Kay. They had not made their living in industry or any other regular way and had traveled all over the world and what I realize now is that they were artists. I don't know that Kay ever put a brush to paper in her life but she had that soul- that artist soul- and I responded to it and to their house in a way that I didn't understand then but do now.

Well. This is going on too long and I have not gotten to the meat of the matter yet, but have merely laid a background- but can you see it? Can you see a house at the end of the one paved road in a village where the artist and his beautiful wife lived?

Anyway, I never forgot the Baisdens, even after we moved away and I dreamed of that house and when I'd go back to Roseland, it was still there and I yearned for it, or at least what it represented which was as insubstantial as smoke or the steam from a cup of tea but as deep and funky as old wood boards and a jungle outside the back door. And I have always wanted a painting of Frank's. I wanted to know more about Frank and Kay. And so, I did what you do in these days of the wonders and internet and I googled him and somehow I found a site and left a comment or a question and somehow, I got an e-mail from a man named Alan Thatcher whose family had grown up on Lookout Mountain and he, too, remembered Frank and Kay from his childhood.

We corresponded very infrequently over the years and a few months ago he sent me an e-mail.
Here it is, in part:

Hi, Mary: I am glad my email reached you, after so long I wasn't sure it would. Anyway, on to the Baisdens. By the way, did you know about their house on Lookout Mountain, near Rising Fawn, Georgia? It was kind of built in to the top of a hill. I was only there a time or two as a teenager and I loved it though don't remember it well. Lots of tile they'd brought from Mexico. In old family slides I found one or two from the terrace there but none showing the inside. After the Baisdens' deaths, the family who owned the property had to demolish the house as it was falling in. And I'm sure it was damp and had other issues, but I sure thought it was neat. So...attached here are pics of the two pieces I was talking about. The 'shed' picture I know nothing about, including how my uncle came to have it. I never saw it at my grandparents' house or at my uncles'. I can't tell much about where the scene is...does it look like Florida to you? It's glued down to a board and it has some stains, I'm sure it's not good condition by art appraisal standards, but it's intact and colorful. I'd be happy to send it to you if you want it for the cost of postage. The other one is definitely a Mexico scene and I remember hearing once where it was supposed to be, but can't remember. It was a gift from Frank to my parents, but I think a last minute one as Frank didn't even know my mom's name, just called her 'his bride.' That makes it a more personal item but neither my brother or I are attached to it, and we both have other Baisdens we like more; he has a couple of Lookout Mtn scenes and I have a beautiful pen and ink and watercolor from an Italian trip. I think we could let that one go too. Let me know what you think. Regards, Alan

Well. What did I think? I thought I wanted those pictures. I thought it was amazing that this Alan Thatcher would remember me and go to the trouble to offer them to me, to pack them up and send them. I thought that yes, Frank and Kay must have had something very special about them for not only me, but this other man, to have been so influenced by them in his childhood.

And so I wrote Alan back and told him all of that and he has sent me the "shed picture"

and also, an article from the Sunday, May 14th, 1978 Chattanooga Times about a retrospective which was done of Frank's work and that is almost as precious to me.


There is a picture of him and it brings him back to me and I have gone to look through the pictures I have in two boxes that were my grandparent's to see if there were any of them with Frank and Kay but I cannot find any. There are other faces I remember, the faces of men and women from my childhood, people who were kind to me and my brother, people whose names I still remember, but none of Frank and Kay.

But now I have a picture Frank painted and an article with his picture in it.

I was telling my mother about all of this and she remembered "The Thatchers" from when she was a girl and when I told her about Alan sending me these pictures she said, "Well now, that right there is a reason to have a computer."

And isn't that true? Isn't this an amazing world where from my home in Lloyd, I can travel out into this world and find someone who knew the Baisdens and who, years later, would send me real artwork painted by Frank and tell me his memories of visiting them in another of their houses? Not one on a riverbank in Florida but built into the top of a hill in Georgia?

From Alan's writing, I assumed that he might be an older gentleman. The actual letter he sent me is on his letterhead and is set up perfectly- you know- the kind of letter they used to teach you to write back in school? and finally, because I am curious, I googled HIM. And I came to find out that he is a Director of Photography and Camera Operator and that he has his own IMDb page and isn't that funny because I have one too, thanks to Freddy Rabbath and I doubt that Alan is as old as I am.

But I am here to tell you- he is one very gracious man and he makes his living in the arts and I live in an old wooden house and still cling to the idea that art can be felt and that those who make it are somehow different from the rest of us and that there are many ways to make it.

And somehow, Frank and Kay Baisden affected us both and I am going to get my ex-husband to frame the picture that Alan sent me and I am sure that my ex remembers the Baisden house from trips down to Roseland with me, and Mr. Moon shall hang it up on the wall here and it will be part of my life now.

And that's the story of the shed picture and I am so looking forward to getting the one done in Mexico. And I am so grateful for all of the links that led up to the moment when we hang these pieces. My mother still has the painting that Frank gave her when Granddaddy built us a house in Roseland for a house-warming gift and she says that it, too, will be mine some day and then some day it will be one of my children's and if this blog is still here, if these words are still floating around the internet (who can know?), then they will have more of an idea about the artist who did them with their pretty, smiling faces and they will know that there is more to the story (as there always is) than just brushstrokes on paper behind glass, framed in wood.


That there was an artist and he and his wife lived in a small old wooden house near the Sebastian River and they served tea to a little girl who grew up to be a mother and a grandmother and who never forgot and who today, on this beautiful morning in North Florida, is remembering it all with tangible evidence in her hand, given freely by the grace of a stranger.

26 comments:

  1. this is so beautiful it made me cry.

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  2. Oh, my heavens.....I love this story......everything about it and especially that you have something tangible to tie the memories to.

    What a great story-teller you are.

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  3. I love this story, how you told it from beginning to end and I couldn't wait for each little piece of it. And I love the meaning too. You're right, the ability to create is a gift and to be revered. So glad you shared this.

    Love your new masthead picture too.

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  4. Is the front porch of the Baisden house much the same today as it was then? It looks like it should be an artist's house.

    This story rings so true as you tell it and the beauty a child saw in people is carried to today with the paintings one created. So beautiful.

    There is no doubt in my mind that art can be felt and that artists are special people. The feelings found in a work of art give us a sense of other meanings than those we might only imagine without the work. And, the stories you tell are art.

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  5. writers are special people too.

    thinking of you.

    xxalainaxx

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  6. The shed picture is really wonderful, and so are the stories, including your mother swimming in the winter ocean.

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  7. Special folk leave a mark in our memory that never goes away Mary. The many or few times together, because of the time spent, are replayed over and over, and each time it feels good to the soul.

    How fortunate that you were able to find someone else who shared a fondness for the same couple. And I love the painting of the shed. It looks like a watercolor..is it? I find the colors and the scene peaceful and calming

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  8. Dear Lloyd, How gorgeous. And I responded longer but I wrote it in a letter and sent it to your house.

    And also a small mysterious gift is on its way in a separate mysterious package.

    love,
    Seattle

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  9. What a wonderful story. I am so glad that your mother left and that you met up with good people who were unique and kind. Cosmic energy abounds.

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  10. dottie- It feels like such a small, personal story but I think we all have similar ones.

    Stephanie- Yes. I do.

    Lo- One of the best things about growing older is seeing more of the story every year.

    Ms. Trouble- Thank-you!

    Kathleen Scott- I think every story is _every_ story. Don't you?

    Towanda- Yes. The porch looks much the same. Smells the same, too. I am not sure what art even is, but sometimes I think it is that done for love and out of need. As such, we are all artists in our way.

    SJ- I'm glad you liked it.

    Mrs. A- You're a doll.

    A- I can't even imagine what she was going through.

    Ellen- Yes, watercolor. That's what Frank worked in. I love watercolor and I think it was probably his influence.

    Seattle- Ah, love. I can't wait.
    Yours truly...Lloyd.

    Syd- It is so true.

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  11. Oh I am glad you told that story. I remember you talking about that couple before (I think when you visited their old house). And I remember the flower picture with the smiling flower. It is nice to hear this story continue. What a lovely chapter this was with you getting another painting!

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  12. I love the paintings. Alan surely is a nice man.

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  13. Ms. Moon, you do tell the most interesting stories. I so enjoyed reading that.

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  14. Frank Baisden was best friend of the genius painter of Mississippi Walter Anderson. Andersons last trip before he died was to ride his bicycle to Roseland, and sleep under the porch, painting and helping pack fruit. There are many biographies of Anderson out right now, and an exhibit sponsored by Jimmy Buffett recently - the Walter Anderson museum in Ocean Springs where the Baisden friendship is kept track of. I m from Vero Beach and was always an Anderson fanatic, but only discovered the Roseland trip in Andersons "logs"

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  15. The Baisdens were also friends of the great modernist poet, and one time love of Robert Graves and correspondent of T E Lawrence, Laura Riding Jackson whom improbably lived in an orange grove in Wabasso for decades -her home is the nature center now. At the time of Andersons visit,in 1960 the Baisdens had fallen out with her, which wasnt hard to do. The most comprehensive Anderson Baisden discussion is in FORTUNES FAVORITE CHILD: The Uneasy Life of Walter Anderson. The Baisdens attempted to get the Smithsonian interested in Andersons paintings of Roseland. The museum was but Anderson was indifferent to any kind of fame

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  16. Anonymous- Wow. Amazing stuff here. Thank you so much. I am going to get my hands on that book. I really appreciate your comments and knowledge here. If you would like to email me, please do. My email address is posted there on the right side of my blog page under Ms. Moon.
    Thank you!

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  17. Also, I just went to the Laura Riding Jackson website and I believe I know that house in Wabasso. I had no idea...

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  18. In 2009, Laura Ridings biographer, Andersons children and grandchildren, and his biogrpaher converged on Wabasso. There was the general feeling that a trip to Frank Baisdens house was in order, but no one knew where the house was, except in Roseland. I m from Vero Beach, in fact my family named the town, but I left at 20 for the west - Texas, Montana and Mexico City (though I have a house there and go back 3 times a year) and so wasnt much help. Andersons biographer is a good man, but lacks dash and imagination. Writing about Anderson, the rolling stone, well, you d have to get out and go where he went by canoe and bicycle to get the picture and this the biographer clearly didnt do. Anyway since then Ive looked occasionally for information on Baisden and that how I ran across you the other day. A few other things: Baisden was also in contact with Robert Graves and his letters are in the Graves archives. Baisden and Anderson roomed together at art school, fenced in the basement for exercise. Baisden and Kay worried that Anderson who painted on typing paper would see his work deteriorate, and so they provided him with good acid free etc which he never used. He didnt care about preservation, the act of painting was enough for Anderson in itself. Walter Anderson had a long dislike of a lot of painting by others including friends but he didnt feel that way about Baisden's. They painted together.

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  19. Well I know exactly where that house is and I spent some hours there as a child with Frank and Kay. Frank never cared for children but Kay was lovely with us. She and my mother became friends and they were both friends with my grandparents.
    That house is one of my favorite houses in the whole world and if I had the million bucks they want for it now (unless it's already been sold) I would buy it and go live there.

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  20. The house is still on the market but the price has not been reduced which is a surprise - Indian River County real estate being still in a state of collapse. You probably already know it but there is a good book, coffee table size from Rizzoli called OLD FLORIDA out a few years ago, with photos of exactly that, fruit stands, cracker houses and so on, including the LRJ house and many others around the state. I never pictured Baisden on the Sebastian River, for some reason. My dad and I used to float the upper stretch of the river, up where its narrow as a mountain brook, and clear with palms forming a canopy over the water, so thick and low you d have to push the john boat under them. Always turned back at the scout camp where the river started to widen. Also I think Kay Baisden wrote a history of Roseland, I maybe wrong about this.

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  21. I grew up on that river. To me, it is still the most beautiful place I can imagine. I have stayed a handful of times at a place right on the river, a few "blocks" up from where my grandparents, my mother and my brother and I lived. It is actually almost conjoining the Baisden property. It was a burnt out ruin of a place when I was a child and I delight in nothing more than to go there now.
    I am so grateful for this conversation. You have a lot of knowledge and are filling in many gaps for me.
    If you do a search for "Roseland" on this blog, you'll find some of my posts and pictures from the visits back I've made.

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  22. I forwarded your postings on the Baisden house to a friend thats a trustee of Laura Riding Jackson Foundation. The photo of the beach at Vero Beach looks familiar, the site that is. Larry McMurtry says his own favorites of his books and there are only four, include DUANES DEPRESSED. Archer City is not much bigger than Wabasso used to be. McMurtry had his enormous book sale this last summer, two friends from Vero were coming out for it

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  23. I heard about McMurtry's book sale. How I would have loved to have gone, had breakfast at the Dairy Queen in Archer.
    I am certainly enjoying this conversation we are having, Anonymous! Nice of you to forward those posts to your friend.

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