Hughes tells the experiences of families in preserving and displaying their old family portraits and her own change of heart in displaying the image of her 3rd Great Grandmother, Mary Plumb Fairchild.
Early on she was offered Mary's portrait but decided that she didn't want that "stern" looking woman over the mantle of her fireplace. Thirty years later she had a change of heart and looked into her genealogy and remembered that old family heirloom. Turns out that Mary Plumb Fairchild was "one of the first women to attend Oberlin College, and an early abolitionist. She died at 29 after giving birth to her fourth child". Now not accepting the offer of the family portrait is one of her regrets - but the portrait is preserved and hangs in the home of a cousin across the country. (Portrait of Mary Plumb Fairchild is from the article).
We have a wall of old family portraits in our home along the landing at the top of the stairs - much like the walls at Hogwarts in a Harry Potter movie - they are hard to miss. The really oversize family portraits still hang at my uncle's home in New Hampshire.