MAGPIE TALE: Smoldering Fires
Grammy Coobaugh always talked about the time Clarence Holbrook Carter came through Deaver County and started painting residents. Grammy only had half a dozen photographs of the family that she'd barely been able to afford at that little photo studio in Eaglesburg. She managed to pay for it by agreeing to let the photographer come up to farm and take payment with picking blackberries on the halves -- he got to go home with half of the buckets he picked. She'd never paid real money for a photograph. Later her Sister Ida who had moved to Memphis as a teen bride would buy her a Brownie, but that was years later.
The idea of having her portrait done in oils seemed a bit silly to her. All that time involved. Mr. Carter had her sit there for three days straight holding Little Chester who would get restless, and the painter would complain about the light not being correct. She thought of the time she could have spent washing or weeding the tomato patch, but she agreed to stand for the portrait and stared into the distance.
"Smoldering Fires" was the name he gave to it. Many thought it was an obvious title referring to the slag heaps issuing smoke in the background. Grammy Coobaugh never lived to see the portrait since Carter didn't come back through the county after he completed it. Did he maybe sense what was smoldering beneath her composed expression, a certain incomprehension about Carter and life and what she pretty much knew would be Chester's fate. She was optimistic after the Korean War when Chester settle in California but rarely heard from him. He sometimes would send her a Mother's Day card in June with "Sew sorry. Done forget till now but I git it to yoo." He worked as an apprentice mechanic in a garage in Southgate for the next 30 years, drifting in and out of marriages and never making child support payments to a disconnected of children strewn Oxnard to National City.
It was his sixth wife, Edna, that took him to that exhibit at the Huntington in 1973 when he stood in front of the painting, seeing something familiar but still not comprehending. Edna, who fancied herself as being an art and anthropological aficionado nudged him and said, "Why look Chester, it could almost be the Appalachia of your youth."
"Ain't half as good as that Norman Rockwell, if you ask me."
Chester stuck his hands and pockets and sauntered off, adding, "Which room's got that Pinky and Blue Boy. I heard this is the museum with Pinky and Blue Boy."
Labels: Magpie Tales