Su Lum: Slumming | AspenTimes.com
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Su Lum: Slumming

Su Lum
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

The first consequence of the furniture-moving was that my bedroom TV set, farther from my pillow, looked like a postage stamp. A new flat-screen TV later, I realized that my bifocals hit the screen right in the middle while I was watching the Democratic primary from the bed.

My bedroom is a mere 10 feet by 12 feet, so one wouldn’t think any rearrangements would make much difference, but, in addition to needing a new TV and a new pair of seeing glasses, I found myself staring at the blank, boring wall that used to be behind the bed.

Years ago, when my daughter, Hillery, and her husband, Bruce, were living in Atlanta, Bruce had done an oil-painting copy of Matisse’s “Goldfish.” The painting was huge (3 feet by 5 feet) and beautiful. My heart dropped when he marked it for sale at their Western Hardware Antiques store in Leadville, but I didn’t have any place to put it. A decade later, I had just the place.

“Does Bruce still have that goldfish painting?” Yes, it was in the cellar of the store. I offered to buy it, and Bruce offered to give it. We settled on a permanent loan, and they drove over the hill to deliver and hang it, all of us agreeing that it looked magnificent in the drab little room.

Now THAT is something to look at!

The painting was so successful, I began mentally casting about for something to go in the spot behind my bed, which would also be reflected in the mirror in front of it. I am a dismally poor visualizer, but I have a large poster of my daughter Skye, age 11, which hangs in the hall. That was made from a snapshot, and I wondered if a photograph I had unearthed a few years ago at my mother’s house could be similarly reproduced.

No one in the family remembered ever having seen this photo, which was taken in 1902 at a hot springs in Kentucky. A handmade ladder leans against a wall of rocks, its right bottom side propped up by a sizable rock. Two older women, in black (and one of whom was black), stand on either side of the bottom of the ladder, and on its rungs are my grandmother, age 21, her mother (who made the stunning quilt that hung in my parents’ hall) and her father (who used to be the pharmacist at the Hopkinsville lunatic asylum ” god knows what they dosed those poor people with), holding my father (age 1). On the rocks above are my grandmother’s sister, my great aunt, Mame (then 15), and an unidentified woman, both holding hands with unidentified men. The women are all in ankle-length dresses and fancy hats, the men in suits and hats.

Perhaps my grandfather, who was the assistant to his father-in-law, took the photograph, or maybe he was back at the asylum with his mortar and pestle.

The image is haunting and bizarre, even more so because they are my relatives. My baby father is squirming in his father’s arms, slightly out of focus.

I took the picture to Wolf Photo and not only could they make a 2.5-by-3-foot copy, they made a sharp, dark-sepia print of it in under an hour for $35. Off to Suitable for Framing, where Mary dry-mounted it for about the same price, and now I have two pieces of art in my habitat to look upon with wonder.

Who would have thought that Gran, who came to our house to die when she was 57 and lived another four decades, would end up on my bedroom wall? Gran, who would scream if anyone left an open umbrella in the house (a portent of death), and whose most familiar screech was, “Go to that lilac bush and get me a SWITCH!”


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