Skip to content

Grandmother’s brother’s oil painting

February 4, 2016

Ralph Wichstrom’s painting of a woman riding.

The old man sat in his front room, an abandoned crossword at his left elbow.  Also, a telephone, his hearing aids, a Leatherman tool, a calculator, an empty disposable plastic food container, a set of coasters, assorted papers, cards and a copy of Ernest Hemingway’s “The Old Man and the Sea.”  Oh, and a cup of coffee.  He still had hope for the puzzle.  The cup still had a swallow left.

A fire burned orange in the wood stove. It made a quiet wind sound and an occasional metallic click.  The dog in the chair across barked.  The clock chimed.

“Why are you barking?” asked the old man.  The dog slumped back down, head on the wooden arm of the chair, eyes closing.  His posture looked uncomfortable, but he was a puppy, and flexible.  It even slept on the old man’s head one afternoon.  His wife had remarked on it when she came home from work.  It made her laugh.  The old man didn’t laugh.

His reverie was interrupted by the sound of a kid’s wagon outdoors on the sidewalk and a barking dog.  This made his dog bark too.

“Stop it!  Stop it! Insisted the old man.

His dog said, “woof.”

“Always have to have the last word?”




“Where’s your ball?” he asked his dog, who ignored him.  “Where’s your squeak ball?”

The dog sat alertly.  “Woof,” he said, almost in a whispered voice.

At least he’s not barking,” thought the man.  His dog put his head down again.

He studied an oil painting on the wall in the front room of his house, a part that had been added on about 50 years ago, he thought.

His family had moved in 32 years ago, and the room was old then.

His oil painting of a woman on a galloping horse with a coil of rope and a pistol in a holster had been made well before the old man had been born.  He remembered seeing it upstairs at his grandparents’ in Kalispell, Montana, when he was a small boy.

The painting was the work of his Great-Uncle, Ralph Wichstrom of Billings, who had once lived on the 500 block of Wyoming Avenue, just a short walk from where the old man was sitting.  Ralph had been his Grandma’s little brother.

More than a hundred years ago in Valley City, North Dakota, his Grandma Ellen Wichstrom raised her younger siblings when they were orphaned.  Ellen was only high school age then.  She took up her mother’s business as seamstress and boarding house landlady, and not only fed and cared for her siblings, but she finished high school, and then she finished college.  In 1907 she married Carl T. Bonde.

Ellen was the old man’s Grandma, the artist’s sister.

Ellen’s younger brother Ralph went into the Army for WW I, and survived to move to Billings, Montana.  Ralph ended up working for the school district as a house painter, painting oils when he had time.  Ralph married Agnes.  They had two children: a boy and a girl, who grew up in Billings in the 1930s.

The old man’s dog jumped off the chair, walked behind it, and laid down for a nap.


From → Uncategorized

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: