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Found Pansies

I freed this small painting from a messy, cluttered closet a few months ago. It was smoke stained, in a broken, dusty frame.  I’d retrieved it from my mother’s things after she died and put it away, intending to reframe it and hang it but never having gotten to it somehow.


The initials TMQ in the corner stand for Thomas Murray Quinn, my mother’s father.  I never knew him, but my mother always told me that she adored him. I know only snippets of his life: he was born in the South to an affluent family.  I have a copy of a newspaper article about his seventh birthday party in 1902, an era when society columns in the South paid attention to such events.  In the breathless style of the time, the writer describes my 7-year-old grandfather as “a gallant little fellow” who “received his tiny guests” that day.


He was shipped off to boarding school in New York and almost forgotten, it seems. A scrappy boxer, he took a special weight title in New York City in 1922 when he was a young dad.  My grandmother wore this medal on a bracelet all her life.


I bought an inexpensive new frame and matte at Michael’s, and was as pleased with the result as if I’d found a damaged Picasso stashed away in that closet and managed to bring it back to life.

I put the painting in my office. “Pansy” comes from the French word “pensées,” which means ideas, or thoughts. When I look at the basket of pansies, their purple and yellow faces reborn, my thoughts turn to the boy who was seemingly treasured but abandoned, who liked to use his hands both to pummel and to paint, and who, as my mother described him, grew to be a classy and generous man.




About treacycolbert

I make my living by writing about health care. I've always written about life's chastening effect, but just as a way of sorting it out for myself. After years of doing this and keeping these essays quiet, I decided to put some of these impressions out there on this blog. Thanks for reading, and let me know what you think.

9 responses »

  1. Another beautiful post, Treacy. I love how this found object prompted a chain of memories and thoughts that conjure up the essence of your grandfather, and how the painting of pansies in your office makes him a presence in your life today. So nicely written, as always. That last paragraph is as lovely as a poem, eloquence with a light touch.

  2. Such a fascinating history. Makes me so curious about the life between the tokens. You did a lovely job of reframing! Love the society notes of the past. They even had them in rural areas into the 1980s. I subscribed to a little local paper after I moved out here, until its demise, that told who paid visits to whom in tiny Noble County towns.

    My paternal grandmother’s name was Quinn, but not the affluent Quinns. Some ancient shared Quinndom from the early days of surnames, though, is nice to ponder.

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful images.

  3. That is a true “find.” Art, like memories, in the eye of the beholder.
    Thanks for the wonderful pensées!

    • Thanks, Linda. Yes, it was a true find. One grandparent on each side was artistic, but of the three of us only Mary inherited that gift. Sadly, I don’t have any of Mary’s drawings.

  4. What a beautiful remembrance of your grandfather!


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