Day Twenty-Three: Something Old
The portrait sits on the hearth, propped against the wall in a narrow space between the fireplace and a bookshelf. I have no place to hang a portrait as large as this one, but it's too lovely to pack away. The antique wooden frame is oval shaped, embellished with beading and other elaborate flourishes, painted a copper color that has a nice sheen to it in spite of its age. The hand-tinted portrait itself was molded into a subtle dome shape, a process which eventually may have contributed to the crack across its surface.
It's a picture of a beautiful baby girl, her dark hair carefully, lovingly parted in the middle, her blue eyes open wide, the third and fourth fingers of her tiny right hand lifted delicately as they might be one day when she grows up to hold a cup of tea in the company of other elegant ladies. That baby was Hazel Belle Willis, who grew up to marry my great-uncle, Loren Elliott. She was born in September of 1906, dating this portrait at about 1907, one hundred six years ago.
Late in her life Hazel told my mother, who was admiring the portrait, that the dress she wore in it had been borrowed, that her family was too poor to buy a dress as fine as this one with its ruffles and lace, its petticoat peeking out from under the skirt. That may have been true at the time, but Hazel's lot in life improved after her parents divorced and her mother remarried a man who was a better provider. Hazel was an only child, and her mother, Sadie, doted on her all the days of her life. So did Uncle Loren, when he came along.
Hazel could have easily been spoiled, but she wasn't. Instead, she paid all that love and devotion forward, making every person she encountered feel special. She was as charming and comfortable in the company of the janitor of the apartment building where she and Loren lived in the early days of their marriage as she would later be in the presence of the dignified "ladies who lunched" in Washington, D. C., when Loren's job took them there.
Here's the beautiful old portrait, the earliest picture I have of Aunt Hazel:
And here's the last one, taken when she was almost ninety years old:
She was my favorite aunt, and she was beautiful, inside and out, from beginning to end.