I secretly enjoyed accompanying my wife on her quarterly quest, traversing concrete lots or dirt fields for decades old items. The first time, she dragged me kicking and screaming, said she needed my muscle. That day I found a weathered Pepsi sign. It still hangs in the basement. Today's hunt for pristine relics is a three-hour trek to a town where my Mom's Grandmother vanished.

Exuberant is putting it mildly when I told her our destination. "You'll discover something about Clarabelle" she said. Goose pimples burst out on my arms like sprinters at the sound of the starter pistol.

Halfway to Penshaw, the foreboding of Mother's prediction faded with the brilliant sunrise.

Early arrival the key to finding a spot for our van near the entrance. I hauled out the wagon and the treasure hunt to restock my wife's shop began.

After an hour of seeking, we stumbled upon a booth selling intricately carved picture frames in different shapes and sizes. Several contained black and white portraits. My wife picked up a small oval one.

"Ellington, look, doesn't she resemble your mother?"

I glanced at the photograph. Mom's prophecy pulsed in my ears.

"Eerie, right?"

All I could do was nod.

The girl manning the booth smacked gum and scrutinized us.

"Who is this woman?" My voice warbled.

She shrugged. "Relative of ours."

"Ours meaning."

"My family." She rolled her eyes. "You planning to buy it?" She blew a bubble so large it hid her nose and swayed. She sucked it in. "Cost twenty."

"Twenty for this?"


The carved flowers were impressive, but the low-grade wood and scratched glass weren't.

My wife handed me the frame, rummaged through her purse and gave the girl a wrinkled bill. "We'll take it."

I carefully pulled back the wire prongs, removed the warped backing, and peeled out the portrait. The woman, nicely dressed, pearls around her neck and tight curls, favored my Mom even more outside the glass. I turned it over and gasped.

"What?" My wife screeched.

I leaned into her, putting the photo up to her eyes. She lowered my arm. "You've got to be kidding." She gestured to the girl, now rearranging the table after our purchase. "Who did you say this was?"

"Family, why y'all keep asking." She sucked her teeth.

"Because she looks familiar, and the name confirmed our suspicion." My wife showed her the neat handwriting.

"Why are you selling these frames with her picture?" I asked.

A middle-aged woman approached carrying two Styrofoam cups. She extended one to the youngster. "We need money." She placed the other cup in the holder of a folding camp chair. "My granddaughter doesn't know much about her older relatives but I might."

Similar to the girl I gathered, they were multiracial.

"The woman in this picture looks a lot like my mother." I unlocked my phone and scrolled through several photos until I located one with me and Mom.

She removed her glasses from atop her head and slid them on. "I see a resemblance. They say everyone has a twin."

People milled around the booth, examining the frames. I inched out of their way and asked if she could give us a few minutes of her time. She invited us to the rear of the booth, sat in the chair, and sipped her beverage. We stood facing her.

"What can you tell us?" I gave her the picture with the back facing.

She read aloud. "Formerly Clarabelle Shipley now Belle Houston. This is my Mother's grandmother. She knows her and can tell you more than me."

We planned to meet later. Even though our hunt produced significant finds, the revelation of my Mom's latest prediction soured my pleasure.

The sun shifted and so had my bones, waiting outside the nursing home for Nell.

She approached, jabbering. "Sorry I'm late. Don't know how Mom will be. Some days she's her lively self, others she sits quiet. I hated to put her here, but she needed constant care me and JoJo can't give."

"You're raising your granddaughter?" My wife asked as we went into the facility. It reeked of disinfectant and floral air freshener.

"Grandkids." Nell approached the front desk. The attendant cordially greeted her and handed her three passes.

The woman in the room we entered was darker than I expected. She sat in a small recliner, her eyes brightened seeing her daughter.

"Hi Ma, brought some people to meet you. They have questions about your grandmother."

The woman checked me out, then pointed to the chair next to her. My wife and Nell sat on the bed.

"Talk to me."

Grateful she was lucid. I took out the picture. "Can you tell me about her?"

She grinned. "Lady Belle. What people called her." She leaned in towards us conspiratorially. "She was a Negro."

"You don't say."

"Uh huh. Married a white man." She glanced towards the open door.

"Do you know anything of her life before she married him?"

"Sure do."

We held our breaths.

"Her husband died fighting in that first war, which those Germans started. Lady Belle mentioned him times she tried to teach me carving. Where you get her photo?"

I looked at Nell.

"JoJo and I are selling the frames and other things."

The old woman's eyes watered. She lowered her head. "I'm sorry."

Her daughter got up and patted her knee. "No need to be sorry."

She pulled a tissue from her dress pocket and dabbed her nose. "If I'd learned to carve like my brother, I'd have money. He made a statue. It's in a museum."

She looked at me again. "Who are you?"

"My name is Ellington, and my wife Daisy." I shared the family tale in relation to our Clarabelle, born in the area, married at seventeen, gave birth to a daughter, left for work one morning and never returned, weeks after finding out her husband was killed in the war. Even though they had no evidence, the family concluded, she ran off with a man.

"From what I've discovered, seems they were right."

She turned the portrait over, tapping the words. "What this say?"

"Formerly Clarabelle Shipley now Belle Houston." Her daughter answered.

"I know her as Lady Belle. This Clarabelle had a child?" She thrust the picture at me.

"Yes, Ma'am."

"I'll be." She gazed at the photo.

My wife broke the silence. "Have you lived in this town your entire life?"

"We used to live up north, but when my mother got old, she wanted to experience where her mother grew up. Cause she told her so many nice things about Penshaw but said all her folks were gone."

"Where up north did your Grandparents live?" I asked.

"New York City." She sat up straight. "Lady Belle used to say she and Pappa weren't ostracized as much there being a mixed couple."

"How did they meet?"

"She worked in his photography shop."

"In New York?"

She nodded.

"Did he live anywhere else before New York?"

"Never heard."

"Any family members who would know?"

"Why's you asking so many questions?" Her voice rose.

"Ma, he's wondering if Lady Belle is his family. Show her your Mom."

I unlocked my phone. The picture appeared under photos. She grasped the phone, cradling it between knobbed fingers. "Lady Belle."

Relieved we had reserved a room, but I couldn't rest. Our visit went awry when my wife suggested DNA tests after we discussed a hypothetical family tree. Nell became indignant. Accused us of plotting to steal their meager fortune of antique photography equipment, photos, hand carved frames and sketches by Lady Belle.

When I mustered my courage to call Mom she said, "I've waited all day to hear what happened to Clarabelle." 

July 23, 2021 14:10

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Trisha Ganan
10:15 Aug 04, 2021

What a great story! I really enjoyed your consistency in your POV and how descriptive it was. The story was clear in my head. Great job :)


Sharon Marcus
16:05 Aug 05, 2021

Thank you.


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Sharon Marcus
16:05 Aug 05, 2021

Thank you.


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RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

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