Cam and I came out on a Sunday in search of Thirties memorabilia, but I was happy for the diversion—a chance to get out of my apartment and not mope about Sam.
The house was located north of the restaurant in an area of west Toronto known as The Junction. I recall my dad telling me about several speak-easies in the area during the Depression Era. The operations were usually located in the basement of old houses—places where you could buy bootleg beer and spirits.
But that was then and this is now, I reminded myself.
Still, the house we parked in front of had the feel of an old bootlegger’s haunt—especially the concrete stairs leading down to a sturdy-looking basement door.
We bypassed the lower entrance and walked up several stairs to a large wooden verandah and knocked on the front door.
A mousy-looking woman in her fifties answered—she had dark, greasy hair and a small, pale face, hidden behind over-sized glasses.
“I’m Noreen Laverty,” she said tiredly, holding out a limp hand.
I shook hands with her and smiled, but her hand felt like a dead fish and I was so taken aback, I completely forgot to introduce myself or Cam.
She looked like a librarian, but it turned out she was a receptionist in a local Notary’s office.
Same difference, I mused.
She showed us to the third floor attic—an immense area, unfinished, except for a sturdy wide plank wooden floor.
The room was packed with boxes, crates and chests—not to mention, clothes of every description—most hanging from makeshift coat racks consisting of broom handles laterally suspended by wires from the rafters.
Cam whistled softly as he surveyed the avalanche of merchandise. “Your great-aunt was something of a collector,” he said.
“More a hoarder, if you ask me,” the woman sniffed.
Cam shot me a glance saying wordlessly the woman would probably clear the lot for a song.
I sensed she was impatient, so decided to be forthright.
“You’ve got a ton of stuff here—I’m not a professional picker. Actually, I’d like to spend an hour or so going through things, but I have to tell you, I’m not going to take the whole lot.”
“What if I just give you one lump sum price for it all?” the woman asked irritably.
“I’m sure it’d be worth a lot more than you’d ask, but I have no room to store it.”
“Well, this was a waste of my time,” she concluded. “I may as well just phone The Salvation Army and have them come in and haul away the lot of it.”
“You could do that—but there might be valuable pieces here—for example, this oil sketch. Do you know anything about it?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “I don’t bother with art.”
I examined the canvas closely. It was unsigned and painted on birch wood in the style of The Group of Seven.
“You know,” I said, “this might be an original Tom Thompson sketch.”
She eyed me suspiciously. “So, who might he be?”
‘A famous Canadian painter who died in the Twenties—this could be really valuable.”
“Like how valuable?” she asked, eyes narrowing.
“I’m not an expert, but the last sketch of his sold for $80,000 at auction.
She wavered as if she’d faint. Cam pulled up a white wicker chair and slid it under her.
The woman sat down in a daze.
“That would be typical of Auntie Gracie—she was a weird, old bird—always going to auctions and the like.”
“You see, you really need to get this material professionally appraised.”
The woman’s expression softened, “Well, thank you, Mister—”
“It’s Lennox—Scott Lennox.”
“I’m indebted to you—for your honesty. But you’ve come all this way—surely you can look around and find something that strikes your fancy. I’ll give it free, of course.”
I glanced around the room and spotted a vintage black and white photo of Marilyn Monroe. It was from the fifties and just a stock photo—but suddenly, I wanted it.
“I’ll take this photo, if you don’t mind.”
“Pooh!” she said, pursing her lips, “that’s not worth anything—please, choose something worthwhile.’
“No, actually, I like this photo—and as I said, I’m not a professional picker—but thanks, anyway.”
She got up and showed us to the door with eyes sparkling and a spring in her step. “Oh, thank you, so much, Mr. Lennox—it’s a pleasure meeting such an honest—and if I may say so, handsome a young man.”
Cam standing behind her rolled his eyes heavenward.
“The pleasure was all mine, Mrs. Laverty—and good luck with the sketch.”
When we back in the car, Cam slammed his hands on the steering wheel. “Are you crazy? That woman would have sold you that sketch for ten bucks.”
“I couldn’t do that, Cam—you know that.”
“We come all this way to look at Depression memorabilia and you’re going home with a worthless photo of Marilyn Monroe? —Hell, she was only a teenager in the Thirties.”
“The story of my life—I’m easily pleased.”
He shook his head and started the motor. “At least the brunch was worth it,” he grumbled.
I leaned back and stared at the houses passing by my window—some traditional 1930’s style—some Spanish Hacienda and other Craftsman Cottages. They all had that same aura, that same air of mystery—like the photo in my hand.
I didn’t tell Cam but the photo reminded me of the girl in my dream—and she was definitely mysterious.
© 2017 – 2018, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.