Thursday, April 7, 2022

The Brass Rubbing Mystery

" . . . my idea of a perfect marriage is twin headstones side by side in a cemetery. . . . Whenever I went to a cemetery I always looked jealously at the names on the tombstones. Michael Rafter and Helen Rafter, James Totheroh and Ada Totheroh, Max Block and Jennie Block, names in stone beside each other forever. That was my idea of commitment. That was marriage. After years of fighting and infidelity, sexlessness and dirty looks, you could end up together in a dignified manner." (256 - 57)

~ Jennifer Belle ~
from her novel
High Maintenance
Back in the day, when Gerry and I first co-mingled our belongings, these two over - sized brass rubbings, rolled up safely in a cardboard tube, were part of the package deal. Sorting through the various options for wall hangings, we both agreed -- apparently without much discussion -- that these two prints deserved to be unrolled, framed and displayed.

For the next 15 years, they hung side by side in our various houses: first -- for 4 years -- on Covington Street in West Lafayette, Indiana; then in West Philadelphia for the next 8 years; and 3 more years in downtown Philadelphia. When at last we decided to return to Indiana, we carefully inventoried what items would or would not be making the move.
Kit: What about your brass rubbings?

Ger: My brass rubbings?

Kit: Yeah.

Ger: Those are your brass rubbings.

Kit: No, those are your brass rubbings.

Ger: Uh, no . . .

Kit: What?!?!
Neither of us could conjure up any clear -- or even hazy -- memory of how this noble pair had made their way into our lives.For 15 years, we had each been assuming that the Lord and Lady belonged to the other. Well, we couldn't leave them stranded in Philadelphia, so we brought them back to Indiana with us, hung them up in the stairwell, and have continued to wonder about their provenance for a further 18 years.

To this day, the issue has never been resolved. The brass rubbings, however, have found a new home, with a kind friend who is in the process of redecorating and agreed to adopt them despite their uncertain origins. We don't even know whose effigies they represent. Perhaps one day, it shall be revealed to us!

Thanks to friend & scholar Curtis Cottrell
for sharing the following poem:

An Arundel Tomb

Side by side, their faces blurred,
The earl and countess lie in stone,
Their proper habits vaguely shown
As jointed armour, stiffened pleat,
And that faint hint of the absurd—
The little dogs under their feet.

Such plainness of the pre-baroque
Hardly involves the eye, until
It meets his left-hand gauntlet, still
Clasped empty in the other; and
One sees, with a sharp tender shock,
His hand withdrawn, holding her hand.

They would not think to lie so long.
Such faithfulness in effigy
Was just a detail friends would see:
A sculptor’s sweet commissioned grace
Thrown off in helping to prolong
The Latin names around the base.

They would not guess how early in
Their supine stationary voyage
The air would change to soundless damage,
Turn the old tenantry away;
How soon succeeding eyes begin
To look, not read. Rigidly they

Persisted, linked, through lengths and breadths
Of time. Snow fell, undated. Light
Each summer thronged the glass. A bright
Litter of birdcalls strewed the same
Bone-riddled ground. And up the paths
The endless altered people came,

Washing at their identity.
Now, helpless in the hollow of
An unarmorial age, a trough
Of smoke in slow suspended skeins
Above their scrap of history,
Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost-instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

~ Philip Larkin (1922 - 1985) ~

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