Sunday, January 6, 2013

A sketch & a letter drifting in time

Once upon a time we sat beneath a willow tree
Counting all the stars and waiting for the dawn
But that was once upon a time, now the tree is gone ....

A coincidental stranger or one of the players

Many things in life are inexplicable, with some few even of Twilight Zone proportions.

If there is anything consistent about my life, it is that I am inconsistent in most regards. To once again point out some of the key elements: I have had two careers, which I define as ten years or more in the same profession, a number of just-plain-jobs and a few years in the Marine Corps. I have had two marriages and two divorces, and could easily have had five. I usually move from one place to another every year or two or three. But, one thing consistent in my life has been my absolute fascination with the study of history. To me, coupled with pantheism, it verges on my personal pseudo-orthodox religion.

As usual, my thoughts are wandering. Cutting to the chase now, when I was purging my personal possessions in the summer of 2010, I kept an intricate pen and pencil sketch that I had purchased a few years earlier in an antique shop. A portion of that sketch forms my illustration for this post. It shows two young ladies debarking from a sailboat on an island or a point of land in a fair-sized body of water. The sketch is not dated, however, the paper on which it is drawn has a manufacturer's mark and date of 1892. My belief, then, is that the sketch was done in the 1890s.

Quite unrelated, a few years later my interest in history brought me into possession of a few letters written by a young school teacher in Minnesota to a friend back at her hometown in Michigan. In one letter, she describes how she and another young, single, school teacher had accepted an invitation from a pair of local young men to picnic on an island in a lake in southern Minnesota. They had gone to the island aboard a sailboat owned by one of the young men. He was a newspaper reporter and illustrator. During the picnic, this young man had made a number of rough sketches of their adventure, and had promised to work up two or three more complete and detailed drawings as gifts for the letter-writing teacher. This letter was dated August 6, 1895.

Of course, you know where this is going. I later confirmed that the teacher and the reporter/illustrator had existed, and that an island in a rather large lake adjacent to the town where they lived and worked had an island which was a popular destination for summer picnickers and outings by church and social groups.

Those are the main points of the story. The inexplicable element to the tale is the remarkable coincidence (What else could it be?) of how a pen and pencil sketch more than one hundred years old would be obtained at an antique shop by a person (me, in this instance) and, a few years later, a letter describing the origin of this sketch would be obtained by the same person (me, again) from people in another state via an online auction service?

There was no reason to think the sketch and the letter were related until after both were in my possession. I bought the sketch simply because I adored it and because I sort of fall in love with women in paintings, sketches and photographs who are long ago dead and buried. (Another element worth writing about someday .... maybe. I suppose it is a search for an ideal.) I bought the letters because I was researching life in late Nineteenth Century "frontier states" and wanted observations written by ordinary people actually living then. There was no visible connecting link at all until after both had come into my possession, which happened at different times from different sources and more than one hundred years after their origin.

So, is it simple coincidence that this happened? Probably, but I prefer to think there is a reason -- although I have no idea what the reason might be if there truly is one. I suppose I prefer to think that everything happens for a reason, even though this notion flies in the face of my pantheistic/historical philosophy of life. I have written here before that I sometimes think the "book" of our life has already been written and that we have no control over it. Predestination. I sometimes think that, but I do not want to believe it.
Some mysteries have no solution. Time has no boundaries. Love -- true love, I mean -- would never end if there really is such a thing. I have been both a journalist and, briefly, a teacher. Do I have a role as a player in this story, or am I simply the person whose curiosity led to a pen and pencil sketch and a letter telling their stories -- which was the same story -– more than one hundred years after the fact? Am I a coincidental stranger, or am I part of their story?


ANITA said...

Hmmmm..have you stopped writing???If you have not..why not tell us something about it??You write good fram..Also wonder who did that painting of the two ladies..what were they doing??It was well not usual for ladies like this to take boat trip in that time?What where they heading too??..I was seeing the movie cold mountain yesterday..about the american civil war..and i even dont know who won it..but it did show very much hard stuff about the people dismissing from the war..good movie and teardripping especially the last scene with Nicole Kidman and Jude Law.Why am i saying this?Because i am also stuck in old i read about the Englishmen and Hollanders battling in Vå place in 1665!!What a story!!
So i think some epokes in world time is more attractive to us then others ..i dont know why..but interesting question you put up.

Also love that Frank Sinatra song!!Love it!!thanx Fram!!))

Fram Actual said...

Other than working on some business issues which need to be resolved during the next few months, Anita, I have an easy life. I eat when I am hungry, I sleep when I am tired, I think about whatever enters my mind, I write if I feel like it and do not if I do not feel like it.

I think the answers to the other questions you asked are right there in the post.

And, yes, the song is very beautiful in both lyrics and melody.

Something special ....