October 20, 2020


What's in the frame?Dear Friends,

I spotted an empty wooden picture frame on the street. The wood was blonde, blotchy, and dry; pretty, but nothing special. It weighed nothing, and the hanging wire was in just the right place, so I brought it home.

In my head I am always fighting with my husband about picture-hanging. I’m happy to center it and slap it up there, and I love a hammer. He is more the curator, so I’m used to feeling my neck prickle when (inevitably) I hear, “It looks wrong.” When he’s ascendant, there are piles of frames in a box in his office. When I’m getting my way, every item has a spot on the wall as soon as it passes the threshold. Robbie has better taste, but I get the job done; this applies to areas other than art. (Notice my competitive edge and undue pride.)

So I knew I couldn’t hang the empty frame on the wall for a joke on our marriage or our decision-making patterns. Maybe I’d place it on our bench and sit behind it when he walked up. Or pose the jack-o-lantern in it. But in the end I could hear Robbie in my head saying, “It doesn’t go there,” so I stuck it in the basement.

For clutter penance, I washed and gave away a small cupboard, two pairs of expensive leather sandals that gave me blisters, and six pairs of sneakers the kids have outgrown. One of my favorite phrases is FREE TO GOOD HOME. (“What if it’s not a good home?” Jacob wants to know.)

I decided to hang the frame on a tree deep in the woods at Small Farm. I’d go look at it privately, and let it be a metaphor for seeing trees or bark or insects or moss or fungus or purple spotted lantern fly or something else I like to look at. Rob would never see it. I could worship at it, or cry, or laugh.

But when we got to Small Farm the hammer and nails were calling to me from the workbench, so I nailed it to the first thing I saw: a building which is not a farmhouse, but which we labeled with a “vintage” piece (probably painted in 2018) saying FARMHOUSE.

The kids had already spray-painted the sign with blotches, which at least rescued it from “rustic” good taste, and lettered it with the family initials: RJJNRR. Now I had the empty picture frame I’d been dreaming of. Inside it was board-and-batten, something I like to look at.

Just as I was about to nail some Indian corn to a nearby tree, Robbie caught sight of the newly-hung frame and called out. I froze, but to my surprise he said, “Put the corn in the frame. A three-dimensional object is cool.”

So now we have a frame, and in it, the (live) still life subject I craved – a person, a pumpkin, bark, Indian corn! We have a small piece of cheap, temporary, homemade art to admire. I also have a frame for this story about stuff lost, found, given away, altered, reused, and re-loved; and a new frame for viewing my (very collaborative) marriage.

Who or what is in your frame? Do you see the present in your frame, or some image from the past, whether known to you or mysterious? Does your frame feature an uncertain future, a beautiful dream or a fear? Or just some beautiful Indian corn with cream-and-red kernels?

Join us on Tuesday October 20 at 7 PM Eastern for Hidden Roots, where the questions are easy, there are no wrong answers, and the stories never repeat.


Nina Planck Kaufelt