The Portrait of Marta’s Papa

Apr 25, 2019 | 0 comments

I don’t think Marta began calling him “Papa” until later.  As I recall, when she was five or six, he was still “daddy.”  No matter.  She adored him and the feeling was mutual.

One afternoon at his Walnut Creek home – the basement apartment of a friend’s home with its big picture windows and the huge green jungle plants just outside – Marta painted his portrait.  Maybe “drew” is the operable word here, not “painted.”  She used felt tipped markers and created a Modigliani masterpiece – or so we thought then.  Our opinions on the matter haven’t changed.

Bill LaRue

A year or two later, while her Papa was away photographing with Minor White, my Uncle Willard came for a visit from New York.  He came out to Castro Valley where we were living then – for dinner, maybe, and to see our wonderful new Eichler house.  On the “tour” he paused to admire the portrait and asked Marta if she would consider selling it.  She would.

The transaction was made.  For a crisp, new five-dollar bill, Willard took the portrait (matted and framed) off the wall and onto the plane to New York.  Marta’s Papa was gone on his photography journey for several months but, on his return, it took him only a few moments to discover that there was a blank space above his chest of drawers.

Willard Espy

“Get it back!” he commanded.  I wrote Willard.  He was unwilling.  I called Willard.  He was still unwilling and there may have been tears from my end.  Eventually, the portrait was returned with a note.  “Where is my five-dollar bill?”

Marta’s Papa cherished that portrait always. When he died a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help wondering if he and Willard might, at last, come to peace about it.  After all, they both adored Marta.  And the portrait, as well.  And why, for heaven’s sake, wouldn’t they?

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