Somebody’s Masterpiece

By Leonard Henry Scott

photos in a box

His head was twice the size of a normal head and his eyes starred out at two widely separated points in space, as if they were the eyes of a fish or of two completely different people. The right one was lower on his face than the left. It had the look of an eye that had been erased entirely then put back on at a different place and angle. He was wearing a wide-brimmed hat and was sitting at a table, seemingly holding a cigar, a fat pen or perhaps some sort of sausage.

The picture was rife with mistakes. The perspective was completely out of whack and there was no balance at all. Plus, the colors were hideous and muddy. It was an extraordinarily sloppy and heavy-handed watercolor painting. Everything about it was disharmonious and unappealing. Yet it was remarkably well presented, like a big steamy mess of fresh hog guts on a sterling silver tray.

I held the picture out further in an attempt to gain some insight into the artist’s vision of what the painting was supposed to represent. But that didn’t help. Finally, I lowered it and looked around the room. As I stood in the picture/poster section of the crowded Saturday afternoon Goodwill Store, I noticed a wide variety of framed prints, original paintings, needlepoints, even professionally done photographs of (presumably) well-posed loved ones. There was an interesting array of framed and richly curlicued official documents; including a graduation certificate from the FBI Academy, a Certificate of Confirmation, and a membership certificate from Phi Beta Pi Fraternity. There was also a Certificate of Excellence which had been given to Jason McKinney in 1957. But I wasn’t sure from reading it what exactly it was that Jason had done so excellently to warrant this honor. Somehow, it was all kind of depressing.

How did this stuff get here anyway? These were very interesting and highly personal artifacts which signaled everything from affirmations of faith to formal acknowledgments of some high achievement. Presumably, such documents were to be kept and treasured forever. Could it be that these particular recipients decided to get rid of their precious documents because they needed more space in their hall closets?  

But that didn’t make much sense and I mused over how such convoluted reasoning might go over in my household.

(“Honey, I’m just going to take this box of stuff, including my college degree and your realtor of the year award, and donate them to the Goodwill. It’s all tax deductible and we can use the extra space.”) 

No, that never happens. Nobody decides to donate the symbols of their highest achievements in life to the Goodwill. Such decisions are made by others. The reality is that people die or wind up in nursing homes and their important artifacts just simply dwindle away. In time even the most precious things get recycled (if they’re lucky enough to escape the dumpster). That’s what happened to all of those nicely framed confirmation certificates, training certificates, awards, etc. These sad but inevitable events are also the source of many of those hardly worn shoes and almost new dresses. 

I examined the picture carefully. I wondered about the artist. On the bottom right side, “Parker” was boldly signed, with no first name. It could have been Albert Parker or Zelda Parker or anything in between. For all I knew, it could have been Fess Parker. The painter (he or she) may have taken up painting as a retirement activity, something to do between Zumba classes and bus trips to Atlantic City. The subject of the picture may have been his father, himself, her husband or her father; or someone else entirely, maybe not even a real person at all. It certainly didn’t look like a real person (with those really crazy eyes and giant head).

Although it seemed to be a very poorly done painting, oddly enough the more I looked at it, the more appealing it became. Although some would certainly see the colors as “muddy,” others might characterize them as “subdued.” As for the painting’s inaccurate perspective, well perhaps it could be considered as a “primitive.”  It is clear that “Parker” regarded it as a very good painting. After all, when one goes through the effort and expense of framing a piece of art, the intention is clearly to hang it on a wall for all to see. You only do that if you think it’s good. Undoubtedly, Parker was proud of the picture and wanted to show it off to the world. It may very well have been this artist’s greatest masterpiece. Now, it was in the Goodwill store, for $8.99. How sad is that?

As I have now reached a certain age, from time to time, I do wonder about my own accumulated stuff. Would my life’s greatest treasures ultimately find their way to the Goodwill Store?  At least I’ll never know because “luckily” I won’t be around to stumble over them during a Saturday afternoon shopping trip. I tucked the picture under my arm and headed for the cash register “line starts here” sign. Goodwill was becoming like Macy’s. Everything was very well organized and of course they had excellent bargains. I thought $8.99, not a bad price at all for somebody’s masterpiece.   

Fortunately, Parker would not see me toss the picture in the trash when I got home, because I only bought it for the frame.         


Category: Short Story