Saturday, September 10, 2011
A Story Fifty Years And More In The Making
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.