When my partner and I moved to Western Massachusetts from Martha’s Vineyard 10 years ago we were admitting to a bit of a home coming.(Please feel free to make jokes about moving from Martha’s Vineyard to the interior of the state – it was hard leaving the island and if I can, ever, I will move right back there again. It’s not, what we would say in the vernacular, affordable – a starter home starts at about $350,000.00.) Although we met on Martha’s Vineyard we both grew up in this area, and so were also moving closer to family and friends.
My mother was still working at the MacDuffie School – my alma mater – and her best friend and co-worker in admissions gave us a lead on a great sublet in a pretty swank part of the very unswank city of Holyoke.
Holyoke is where I grew up age 8-14, where my mother ran a halfway house for developmentally disabled adult women in a residential program. After that, she was hired as a dorm director and teacher at MacDuffie. Our lives were very intimately entwined throughout those years as we negotiated many big obstacles together, including navigating the tricky waters of having a child grow up with eight DD women, my parents divorce, and then my mothers status as a dorm director and faculty member at my school. (or really, her school…)
My mother and I had not lived close to each other, or really been very close, after I graduated; we bonded more when I was on the Vineyard and could have her come down for a vacation, or a holiday visit. She loved those trips and I’m sure she swanned a bit saying she was visiting her daughter on the Vineyard, leaving out the part that it was a ramshackle rental with, fortunately, a cute guest cottage!
We were really fortunate that my mother’s friend and coworker introduced us to her neighbors, the Sharmas, who were both professors and leaving on a six month sabbatical back to India, their homeland.
They were delighted that we would sublet/caretake their beautiful home – we were equally delighted to return to our roots via a six bedroom house with a formal dining room, a real cooks kitchen, a Jacuzzi tub, and the amazing spice drawers that the Sharmas generously urged us to make use of.
We hosted a few fabulous dinner parties in the dining room, mostly Indian food due to the access to every spice needed for any dish required. I do recall one dinner when I misread a recipe and realized I was supposed to have been roasting something for hours….but we managed with lamb kabobs.
It was a really lovely time. I was spending more time with my mother, and one day asked her to come visit for lunch – to show off the house and to , of course, show off my domestic bliss, even if it was a sublet.
I think I made quiche and a salad - the perfect light lunch for the role I was inhabiting - lady of the house! It was late Spring, so we were able to eat outside. I had only showed her the first few rooms of the house and asked her if she wanted the grand tour.
She said yes.
So I took her through the formal dining room to the formal parlour (there was a sunroom that served as the living room), up the formal front stairs, down the long hallway with all the bedrooms, and down the back stairs.
My mother paused on the landing of the back stairs and said: “I didn’t realize I gave that painting to you.” I looked at her and rolled my eyes.
“Mom – this is not my house! That is not my painting!”
But she was really frozen and startled. She said “That’s our painting – that belonged to us.”
We took the painting down and she looked on the back and indeed, in careful handwriting, it said :
the second wife of Edwin Talmadge
of Golden Hill St. So. Norwalk.
member of Trinity Church ,
neighbor and friend of the Kinsley family.”
Kinsley being my mothers maiden name.
How did this happen?! Well, when we left Holyoke, the halfway house, we had to sell most of our stuff. My mother was moving into a small apartment in a dorm – whereas, even in our reduced circumstances at the halfway house, we had a frigging mansion to pile all the antiques into. That yard sale was epic – I had my own corner to sell MY stuff! Dealers came early to get the best things. I mean, we had a baby grand piano and a carved oak table that could seat 16 comfortably. Just for starters.
Somehow the painting must have ended up at the yard sale. I emailed the Sharmas about this amazing coincidence – they did not recall buying it at a yard sale and thought they had maybe purchased it at an antique store.
The Sharma’s came home – Yadu had not been feeling well in India, and they needed to return early. We were reluctant to say goodbye to our beautiful temporary home, but happy to oblige them, of course.
I visited often after they returned, settling bills and moving out a few things we had left behind. About a month or so after they came home they asked me over for tea and presented me with the painting as a thank you gift for taking care of their home.
A gift I did not deserve, since, well, living in their home was one of the most precious times of my life. But such a thoughtful gift.
One year later Yadu died suddenly, in his chair in the parlour, while hosting his annual end of semester party for his students and coworkers. Although I lived in a different town, I was in Holyoke that day and thought to stop by. I saw the ambulances, but had already made the decision to drive on. I didn’t know they were for him.
Yasha sold the house quickly, and moved to a smaller home.
Of course, I still have the painting.