I know, it’s only a damn chair.
I profess to NOT share my sisters’ love and passion for antiques. Or my brother’s. To me, most of the inherited things they have are just old, dull, unattractive stuff, no matter how ‘fixed up’ they make them. My brother has an ancient pendulum clock that still works, and he and his wife use grandma’s old dining room table, chairs and buffet. V. has a gigantic steamer trunk full of treasure, which includes among other things a rather ugly porcelain faced doll. In Ann’s living room there is an old hoosier cupboard that she rescued from the back kitchen of the farm house before it was sold. I remember it as an interesting old thing painted bright yellow. It’s doors had latches, there were cup hooks inside, and it had a flat drawer under a white-with-blue-speckles porcelain counter top. Top left were doors that opened to reveal a moveable glass pane, behind which was a long funnel with a crank on it. You put flour in the top, turned the crank and collected it nicely sifted in a container below. Weird. It also had a roll top door middle right. That fascinated me for about five minutes as a child. We stored winter boots in the bottom of that cupboard for years and years. It cost Ann almost a thousand dollars to have that piece of furniture restored. How insane, I thought when she told me; but even I have to admit it’s quite a beautiful piece now. The wood grain is gorgeous, and the roll top works a lot better without all the crusty paint gumming it up. Also in her living room (where normal people would put a coffee table) is a big old wooden chest that came across the ocean with our great great grandmother. She has what I refer to as a ‘queen anne’ chair, simply because it’s hers, not because I know anything about period furniture. There’s much more, too many things to itemize and mention. My own daughter is mesmerized by these antiques. She has a small wooden box that my mother gave her, containing several curious bits of junk. She and Kenzie go through it and marvel at the things it contains. I think the difference between the two of us in this regard is that I grew up surrounded by this kind of clutter, and so I don’t appreciate it much and prefer things that are new. When I say something to that effect she and her aunt look at me like I’m crazy.
But I’m not a complete loss! Although I don’t ever want my house to be full of antiques (it would be like living in a museum) I do have a few things in my possession that are as old as dirt. (Besides W. ) I do kind of hate to admit how precious they are to me. One is an old wooden butter bowl grandma gave me because I asked to have it. Then I didn’t know quite what to do with it. Eventually I sanded it, varnished it, and painted a little doll in an apron sitting in it’s sunken interior, complete with whimsical little leaves and flowers floating around her, thus completely destroying any antique value it may have had. I also have a wooden container, but no one can figure out what the original use for it may have been. It has slotted divisions into which old record albums fit perfectly – so guess what I keep in it. It was painted black and used for books and magazines when we were growing up. I’ve revamped it as well to make it presentable. With a few magic mushrooms for artistic interest.
That thing on top was added later, in case you’re wondering. For want of a better place to put it, is why.
I have a strange bookcase that now resides at our summer cottage. It’s about a foot wide and five feet tall with a glass door and not so sturdy shelves. Someone probably built it to fit in a small, tall space. It’s curious, with character, and therefore greatly appeals to me – the same way my grandmother’s rocking chair does. Grandma got it for a wedding present, so I guess it must be close to a hundred years old.
Here it is with it’s original owner comfortably seated in it, holding my daughter in her lap, as my mom and I hover in the background. By the time I first noticed the rocking chair, it had been painted barn red and was a cast off in our old shed. My mother said it originally had a woven wicker seat, but that wore out and someone nailed a piece of plywood over the hole. The rockers were flat on the bottom from years of use, so when you rocked it made a loud clunk-clunk noise, along with a lot of groaning and squeaking from it’s old dried out joints. As much as I love red, somehow I knew it didn’t suit in this case, and one weekend at mom’s, mostly from boredom, I hauled the chair to the house. I was pregnant with D. and suddenly decided my unborn baby should have a rocking chair. With paint thinner and an old rag I began the arduous task of removing the layers of paint. What began to emerge was something truly lovely. Once I started, it was impossible to stop, even with my mother freaking out that the fumes could not possibly be healthy. We didn’t have money to get the seat replaced, and to this day the nailed on plywood remains. I kind of like it. And it’s always covered with a cushion, so what’s the harm. When I was finally finished, many weekends later, the chair still creaked and groaned and clunked, but it was functional, and charming in a strange way that I didn’t then understand.
Baby D., probably trying to keep still so those scarey noises don’t start up again.
We left the chair behind when we moved north, knowing it would not survive all our moving about. I got to visit it when we were home for holidays. Silly I know, but I always did check on it, and when we moved south and were finally able to claim it again, that was a source of quiet happiness that I couldn’t explain. Grandma’s chair.
A few years ago, W. was stepping back to look at something, tripped, and grabbed hold of the rocking chair to steady himself. It sort of fell to pieces. We were both surprised and dismayed and then W. fell apart. Well, not litterally of course, but he just sort of broke down about it all. Oh my god, your grandmother’s rocker! He was so staggered by what he had done, he was the one who needed comforting. I shrugged and told him it’s only a chair for goodness sake. A bottom rung was broken, one of the arms had come off with spindles hanging and a rocker was badly cracked. When I looked at it like that I wondered how in the world it had stayed together for so long in such a fragile state. Thank god a guest didn’t sit on it and kill themselves. W. sorted through the debris and vowed to make it right.
The fellow we found to do the repairs was aghast at the responsibility of restoring a priceless antique. It took a while to convince him that it’s value as an antique was not at all the point of the endeavor. It has always been the sentimental value, never anything else. All I wanted was to have it put back together. He did an amazing job. He replaced both rockers, thicker and sturdier than the originals I’m guessing. He replaced a cracked arm rest and several of the spindles. If you look really closely you can see they don’t all match. He took out all the creaks. Don’t ask me how. He charged us an incredible amount of money which made W. rethink his madness momentarily. We got it back with all the new parts blatantly obvious in bare wood, and were advised to take it now to a furniture refinisher to have it properly stained and varnished. But I did that myself. As lovingly as so many years ago when I coaxed the color from the old wood, I was able to make the new look old. For the money I’ve spent on that thing I could have bought two or three brand new rocking chairs. But I don’t expect anything shiny new would have the power to make me smile every time I look at it, not like this ancient pile of sticks is able to do.
WHOA!! Deja vu. Kenzie rocks, but there is no sound. Some things get better with age.
So yeah. I say I hate antiques. But just like every good rule has an exception, I guess every good hate has a noninclusion.