Wagon Boss

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It hangs on my living room wall because I am the only one in the family who couldn’t say no.  It hangs there and it mocks me, and I hate it.

“It” is a Charles Russell painting.  Or to be more accurate, among my family members it is the Charles Russell original.

According to family legend, it was my Grandmother’s prized possession.  I don’t remember Grandma Hyde, but I remember the stories of that painting.  How Grandma fell in love with it on a visit to the Charles Russell Museum, how the family all chipped in together to “invest” in it for her, how it would someday be a great inheritance for my sisters and me.  Every time we heard the story again, we nodded and promised to cherish it forever.

We gave our word.

Later, our inheritance was expanded to include figurines from Gorham, Grossman and others.  The aunts’ house became crowded with curio cabinets stuffed to overflowing with Norman Rockwells, Hummels, Lladros, Andreas, and Swarovskis.  Chubby pink-cheeked children in lederhosen peered out from behind graceful nuns in soft pastels; a cheerful cardinal sat on a porcelain tree branch beside a scene of small-town Americana.

There are Hallmark stores with fewer figurines than my aunts had in their home.  Aunt Marian also dabbled in Precious Moments, Fannie-kins, Snowbabies, and Royal Doultons.   She hung collectable plates from the Danbury Mint and Bradford Exchange and spoke of every new addition in a hushed voice, reminding us that these treasures would all be ours someday.

Someday came, and my sisters and I were left with a collection of useless tshotskes for which there is no resale market.

I sold some on Ebay. Traded some on Listia.  We set up a display in the back of the church at Aunt Marian’s memorial service and invited her friends to take one with them to help remember her.  And still, I have hundreds of figurines boxed up in the back of my closets.  Thousands of dollars’ worth of useless figurines that mean nothing to me.

And then there’s the painting.

It’s called “The Wagon Boss.”  My sister and her husband put on white gloves, wrapped it in a sheet, and took it to an expert to find out just how much it is worth, only to discover that the cherished Charles Russell “original” is a poster.  A beautiful poster, carefully mounted and framed, but a poster.

The fifty year-old frame has more value as an antique.

And there it hangs.

On my living room wall.

I hate it.

It is dark and dreary and it makes me sad.  I don’t want it, but I can’t seem to let it go.  When I think of dropping it off at the GoodWill, my heart aches. I get teary-eyed at the thought of it ending up in a Dumpster somewhere.  It has value.  It must have value to someone, somewhere.

I can’t just let go of something that I promised to love forever . . . can I?

I gave my word.

A promise is supposed to be forever.  I made a promise, gave my word, made a vow.  Going back on my word means I was wrong.  Gullible.  That I was fooled into seeing value in something utterly worthless. That I believed in a lie told by someone I shouldn’t have trusted.

Kind of like when I said my wedding vows.

I am fool.  A gullible, divorced fool surrounded by boxes of Norman Rockwell figurines and a dusty old Charles Russell poster, and nothing else.

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4 thoughts on “Wagon Boss

  1. Hi A.J. Me again twice in one night.
    Obviously the “poster” means more to you than you think. Still you know it’s worth and your Aunt won’t mind if it goes west, when you are ready. But maybe sometimes when you look at it and the weather and light are just so…. you can smell her house or hear her rustling around in the kitchen. I don’t know but her house must have been fascinating for a child, maybe even a little edgy. My partners mother died a few years ago and our cottage has been overflowing with memorabilia of no particular value ever since, she is talking of having a de-clutter as the meaning has gone from much of it now. Off to the Sally’s. Then I was trying to get my mother to dispose some of the stuff in their house, such as moth eaten baby clothes MY baby clothes and I am 50, I said “you know most of this stuff it is just STUFF” her reply in tears was “It’s NOT stuff it’s memoRIES!”
    So take your time, you’ll know when to take it down and a year or so on you’ll know if it’s going out, just don’t leave it for your kids to decide.

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  2. I am sorry to tell you this, but the original hangs in my bedroom. I am very sorry that your family was sold a poster and made to believe it was the reality. I understand that feeling and I do not blame you for your anger. Because the poster meant so much to your family, it holds on to your heart. Buck up, my friend! Now it just reminds you of your loved ones

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    • I am so glad to know that the original belongs to someone who loves and appreciates it!

      For the record, I dont think anyone misled my aunts into believing it was the real thing. I think they sort of misled themselves over the years and told the lie so manny times that they forgot it was a lie.

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