2004-07-26 Tilly's Tale

Tilly's Tale

I love old photographs, especially old personal photographs, found photographs. Melinda has an amazing, amazing collection of them and I often browse through her diary, writing wacky little histories and biographies in my head, trying to imagine what happened just before and just after the shutter snapped.

This illustration is based on one of them. This is "Tilly". This is Tilly's story as imagined by me:

For as long as anyone could remember, Aunt Tilly had been as silent as a statue. Not a word escaped her lips. She communicated through a series of nods and winks and vague expressions. She would wave her large white hands in emphatic circles on the rare occasions requiring emphatic gestures, but mostly those white hands posed in her lap like fragile items made of alabaster. But somehow, when she needed to, perhaps by some psychic skill, she made her thoughts clearly known.

Family lore has it that some mysterious boating accident off the coast of South Africa had left her suddenly, tragically mute at the age of seventeen. To be sure, there was a kernel of truth to this. Tilly did indeed become mute when she was seventeen, but it was actually a hysterical response to an encounter with an irate chicken on the old homestead in Virgina, and it only lasted a period of days. It was just that when she did recover the ability to speak, she found to her suprise that there was little worthwhile to say. And truth be known, she sort of enjoyed the mystique her silence afforded her. It allowed her to blend seamlessly into the background. People forgot she was there. Dumb to her presence, they would forget themselves and act as they would if they were entirely alone. It amused her. It intrigued her. She became the ultimate observer.

A year after the chicken incident, Tilly left Virginia to begin a six decade adventure. She visited 38 different countries. She had many lovers, among them an Arabian prince and a famous French painter. A portrait of her alabaster hands hangs in the Louvre. But she never married and she never had children.

Sixty odd years after her world tour began, Tilly returned to Virginia and her silent observation. She spent the rest of her days in the sunny sliver that ran the length of the house, amongst the vines. She would occasionally whisper tales of her adventures to the plate sized faces of the Queen's Anne Lace she cultivated and sing softly to the visting birds and squirrels and neighbourhood cats, but no one ever actually heard her. She died there many years ago, snoozing in the sun, her spectacles quiet and still in her large white hands, under the nodding heads of Queen Anne's lace. A packet of old letters found beneath her chair finally gave voice to Aunt Tilly's amazing adventures abroad, astounding her kin.

In other news, Finny J. has kennel cough, possibly transmitted by one of the two slobbery old tennis balls she found in the park last week and I have to keep her quiet for a couple of days. This is not easy task as if you ask her, she's just fine, thank you very much, and ready to go on one of our long rambles through the park. To her mind, there is not much which can't be cured by a good bouncity walk. She is currently framed in the doorway, emitting pitiful little whinnies of boredom and fixing me with her saddest stare. Any minute now, she will advance to the determined nudging and prodding of my elbows and bottom and any other body part available to her from my position behind this desk. Sigh. It could be a very long afternoon!

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