The Portrait
Ashley M. Garson


In every house there is that one spot where something very special to the family is located--a table, photo, blanket, book, or even just a trinket, something that can recall memories of a past loved one. At my grandmother's house in Bay City, there are millions of little knickknacks that all have wonderful stories of the past that include people who have passed on or are still alive. There is one thing in particular, however, that stands out in my mind. It is located in the attic to the far right, tucked away in a box that holds youthful memories for my grandmother.

As I journey through my grandmother's old house where many generations have grown up, I get a sense of history by just standing and admiring all the treasures grandma has accumulated over the many years. Walking to the hallway, I see the first bedroom that is occupied by my grandmother. As I move down the wall I see a built-in cabinet that houses bedding, tablecloths, coloring books, and crayons. As I continue down I reach another bedroom where my grandpa once slept; it is now converted to a spare bedroom and grandma's sewing room. At the end of this wall is a remodeled bathroom that is long and very narrow. Outside the bathroom and opposite the bedrooms rests an old tape and record player on which grandma used to play Beach Boys music to wake us girls up. That is just a glimpse of where in the house the attic stairs are released.

The real history begins when I stand in the center of that hallway. I look up and see a long rectangular shape that is cut out in the ceiling with a piece of rope hanging down at the end. As I reach for the rope, I have to stand on my tiptoes to fully grab the cord and pull down a set of stairs, folded one on top of another. I grab the top layer that I pulled down, which is connected by a hinge to the second layer. I reach over the music player and switch the light on, revealing years of memories. I slowly walk up the stairs.

As I reach the top I get a sense of extreme cold and feel a gust of ice cold air rush down my body. Before I step into this lost world I make sure there are no nails sticking out of the old rickety wood planks. It is secure for me to continue, and I look to my left, where I notice many things. I see my old toys that grandma kept, my mom and her brother's old baby chair, tables, lamps, pictures, and so on. As I then turn to my right I have to duck, because even though I am short the ceiling is too low for me to stand completely straight. I make my way to the end and notice, to my left, a field of multicolored flowers that will never have a scent, stacked, bundle upon bundle, just waiting for spring to come. I proceed down on the left and realize my grandma could open a hand basket shop, she has so many baskets: short, tall, small, medium, large you name it this lady can give you the exact type you are looking for. To the right of the attic are what looks millions of sweaters and bedspreads stacked to the very top of the ceiling, taking almost the whole right side of the attic. When I have passed that mountain of fabric I see all the boxes and bags of every holiday decoration you can imagine. The true history of our family,
however, is what lies beyond the field of fake flowers, bundles of baskets, and mountains of bedspreads.

At the very end of this cold attic I can see a cedar chest with old markings which help me understand its age. As I run my hands along the top it feels of dusty and dirty. I open it and smell must and moth balls combined. The hinge inside that adds support is now broken and hangs in the chest, as if telling a sad story. On the top is my grandpa's pride and joy--his left-handed baseball glove, my grandma's wedding hat and shoes, baby shoes and clothes that are faded by years, and an army picture that contains a picture of my grandfather. As I get past this layer I can see hundreds of newspapers that my grandmother has saved to remember past history, such as a newspaper entitled "The First Man on the Moon" and one dealing with Pearl Harbor. There, in between these papers, is an oval-shaped picture that is so old the frame, glass, and picture have all separated. This picture dates back to 1922. It is my grandma's father, Alfred Matthews.

Alfred Matthews was a Bay City policeman during the time of Prohibition on the Michigan-Ontario waterways, when the mafia was in full swing with Al Capone and Anthony Lambardo. Of course, this picture was taken before my grandma and even before my great grandparents were married. As I observe the photo more, I notice the police uniforms were very simple in the 1920s. Even though colored pictures were on the way, they could only capture a couple colors, so later the printers would go back and hand paint the pictures to enhance the colors. I can detect this technique from the yellow paint on the double-sided bottoms that are on the navy wool jacket. Also on the jacket I can see the silver badge that gave Alfred his power of law. Under the jacket he is wearing a white oxford shirt with a blue tie and a painted design on his tie. As I look at the face I see how straight and serious his expression is. He was very strong and honorable. Finally, I examine the traditional policeman's hat with the straight edges which, in the middle, display a gold badge.

Even though this picture shows a strong-headed Bay City policeman who had to be tough to deal with criminals and lawbreakers, he was a soft-hearted man. Alfred Matthews had a great personality that my grandmother says has been passed down by genes. This heirloom portrait has been in the family for 85 years and once hung in my grandma's childhood home. It now rests under the ancient newspapers, in a chest which is located at the far end of the attic that is located at my grandma's house in Bay City, Michigan. One day it will be passed on to one of us, to care for and teach future generations about our family's history.

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