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.