Pictures of dead people

My house is a cute little 1923 cottage on a quiet street. It has a black and white tile fireplace with an oak mantel and built-in bookshelves, crown moldings, great energy, a wisteria-draped front porch and an established yard with fruit trees, flowers and two 90-year-old grape vines. I knew it was supposed to be my home the very first time I walked into it.

Husband #2 and I had been married for about a year when we started house hunting, and he hated the process so much that he wanted to buy every house that we saw. He was a really big man (6’4″ and about 260 at that time), and one of the houses he ‘wanted’ was so tiny that his head almost brushed the ceiling! I finally took the real estate agent aside and asked her to just stop listening to him. She laughed and nodded, and we came up with a sign that I would give for houses that I wasn’t at all interested in. That realtor and I made a pretty good team–we would walk into a semi-crappy house in a less than lovely neighborhood, and I would wave away a ‘fly’. Before #2 could start to say, “Honey, I really like…” my co-conspirator would point out some huge problem with the house and we’d be on to the next one.

(Side note–this is the same ex who actually liked that our Australian Shepherd barked too much, taunted her to make her bark even more, and thought that turning this neurotic puppy into a growly ‘watch’ dog was a great idea. When we finally hired a trainer, on her first visit she asked, “Who on Earth told you two that you should own a dog?!” Later, she took me aside and explained that some of the training methods she’d shown us also ‘worked on people’…as she glanced over her shoulder at #2!)

Back to houses…there was no secret signal needed when we walked into the little cottage with the amazing fireplace and (as the ad read) the ‘Martha Stewart back yard’. It just felt like home to me, and I hadn’t had a real home in a very long time. We made an offer and planned our big move.

We began hauling our things into the quaint little house, and quickly realized that we didn’t have many nice pictures to hang. You may have read in an earlier post that #2 was a bit eccentric…he was into Lord Byron and the Romantic poets, loved all things French, and was obsessed with anything from the 1920’s. One day I came home from work and he had framed and hung some old sheet music printed during the flapper era (that he just happened to have lying around), and they looked good! I never would have thought of doing it, and it was unique and seemed to fit the house.

Somebody else's Grandma

Somebody else’s Grandma in her early years

Boy with cart

It’s a boy…and that’s not a wheelchair

Taking those old framed pieces as our starting point, we looked around for more vintage pictures on eBay and at the local Goodwill. (If you’ve never been to Portland, we have some of the best Goodwill stores anywhere. Maybe it’s a result of our rampant recycling, but thrift shopping is a huge deal here.) What we ended up with were some amazing old photos that I still have hanging, including a hand-tinted panoramic view of Portland from the late 1800’s, a Victorian sepia photo print of ‘Our American Poets’, and some reprints of old shots of downtown Portland. My favorites, however, are the pictures of dead people from someone else’s family. 

I was (luckily) not awarded custody of that crazy dog in the divorce with #2, but I refinanced the house and I got to keep the dead folks on my walls. When friends come over for the first time, they usually ask about all my ‘relatives’. I explain that I don’t even understand it myself, but it’s oddly comforting to me having these old portraits of random strangers who expired long ago hanging on my walls. I guess it turns out that I’m a little eccentric myself, and these faux relatives suit me…and this house…just fine.

Oh, and #2 was also the lawn guy. When we split up, Martha Stewart took back her yard. I figured it was a good trade.

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