By Tim Hayes

Art lovers will back me up on this.  Walk through the Louvre, the Vatican, the Museum of Modern Art, any location where famous works of art may be on display, and the view also includes some tremendous and wonderfully beautiful frames surrounding those masterpieces.

Yet for nearly 40 years, I’ve been looking at a little, square, three-and-three-quarter inch gold frame, and it’s one of my most treasured possessions.

Purchased in 1978 at an Authenreith’s 5&10, this frame sits beside my Mac screen as I write this essay today.  It still has some of the glue residue from the not-so-carefully-removed price tag in the upper-right corner.  The little cardboard stand in the back, frayed and worn, still holds the picture upright.  Old Scotch-tape patches along the base help hold the thing together.  Even the gold trim has dulled to a degree.

It cost me 79 cents 37 years ago, but its value remains incalculable.  If I had time to grab one thing out of a burning building, I’d take this little frame.  I mean, why not?  It’s followed me everywhere for all these years.

For four years of college, it rested on my dorm – and later apartment – dresser.  I kept it with me on summer jobs and internships.  It sat on my desk in the newsroom, then at my workstation with the state Department of Transportation, my first PR job.  The frame followed me to eastern PA and my cubicle at the power company where I worked in Corporate Communications.  And it found a home back here in Pittsburgh, as my career veered from corporate to agency positions, through all the years of marriage and raising a family.

So small and so unobtrusive, my little gold picture frame has never elicited a single question from co-workers or guests, and that’s fine.  It’s not there for anyone else.  It’s there for me.  It keeps me grounded.  It fills me with gratitude.  It reminds me of incredible blessings.  It makes me smile.

A 3.5 x 3.5 inch photo inside the frame shows a young girl, just turned 18.  She’s wearing a lovely floral dress, and holding a small bouquet.  Her eyes alight, she flashes a smile so bright and happy that it never fails to take my breath away.

The colors in the snapshot, taken in a study lounge in her dorm building prior to a freshman semi-formal, may be a little washed-out after all this time.  But only a person who wasn’t there as it was taken would think so.  To me, the image is as fresh and vibrant and stunningly beautiful as the moment the old Kodak Instamatic camera snapped it.

The girl in the frame has been there for me, with me, behind me, beside me, through the highest highs and the lowest lows.  She is the greatest grounding presence in my life, always helping me to keep things in perspective, never losing her optimistic and faith-filled outlook.  I literally thank God every day for her, so grateful for the innumerable blessings she represents and makes manifest day after day after day.  And, most of all, she makes me smile.

In the ongoing grind of jobs and bills and obligations, it helps to have a unifying focal point.  That single place in your mind and heart where, no matter what, you know everything will be all right.  This image, inside this frame, has been mine.  That’s why I’ve kept it – why I’ve kept her – front-and-center, clearly in my field of vision, all these years.

So you can have your fancy-pants paintings and the opulent frames in which they reside.  They’re impressive to view, no doubt.  But they don’t stay with you for long.

My little 79-cent treasure, on the other hand, contains an image I love and can’t imagine living without.