Sunday, April 27, 2008

Slice of Life: Family Heirloom

Thanks to @scrappynhappy from Twitter for introducing me to this new writing prompt.

"Don't think I'm trying to shove you into the grave or anything... but I wouldn't mind if you earmarked Grandma's treadle sewing machine for me."

"You know it still works, right?"

"Yep. I have many fond childhood memories of rocking the treadle back and forth and feeling the stiff mechanism loosen up. I would like to have it. I promise I'll take care of it."

This nonchalant exchange occurred while I was driving my mother's car back to my house. I think we were talking about all of the items in her basement that are currently undergoing a drastic reorganization courtesy of Sandy, the housekeeper lady extraordinaire.

Inwardly, I feel conflicted. My mom is not possibly old enough for me to start talking about stuff like this. She's going to be around for at least 30 more years, right? After all, I'm just a baby myself, HER baby.

I wonder when it happened, this switch from "shopping" in her basement for items to furnish my apartments to carefully selecting things that I want to have around me to fill me with joy and memories.

"I remember that it was my job as a kid to dust all the rungs on the dining room table and chairs. It would take me an hour to get in all those crevices."

"They certainly made furniture to last, didn't they? We bought that set in 1975. Dad picked it out. We haven't bought a new set because this one is still in good shape."

Sure, there are only 4 or 5 chairs left. I remember clamping the rungs back into place long enough for the carpenter's glue to do its job. The kind of furniture you mend, just like the thick socks with the holes in the toe area. I had my mom teach me how to darn socks this last week just so I wouldn't have to waste good socks.

"The table top is good for homemade play-doh, that's for sure."

It is. The table is made of solid wood, but the top has a tough veneer that resists scratches. And it has leaves. The table can go from a smallish circle to a long oval that has fit eight of us around it. Sure, our elbows would hit each other, but we could fit. We'd bring in the kitchen stool and the piano bench to provide extra seating. Later, we'd spin the computer chair around to join the eclectic mix. Now, we have to set up two card tables in the living room and clear off the breakfast bar as well."

The set isn't beautiful. My mom never felt it was her ideal table and chairs. I remember her telling me that Dad picked it out on his own and surprised her with it. All these years, she's lived with it even though she didn't really love it.

And now I covet this ramshackle dining room table and chairs. I want to make homemade play-doh for my children and let them use the rolling pin on the soft green dough, give them plastic knives and forks to trace out designs in the minty-smelling putty.

"We can go to the furniture store next time you are in town and pick out a new set for you. You'll finally have the set you've always wanted. A long oval on a pedestal base, right? What kind of chairs would you like? Country traditional with stenciled carvings? Shaker simplicity?"

"I don't know. I think I'd rather let you pick them out. My kids seem to know what I like better than I do. I trust your judgment."

How did this happen? Is this conversation significant? Why do I feel a shifting, a tremble of an earthquake?

Last night we watched Antiques Roadshow. I'm always startled by the beauty of some of the antiques and special finds that people bring in for appraisal. Family heirlooms, some, others, just a dirty treasure they picked up at a flea market. I'll never haul the dining room table to an arena and lovingly present it to the Keno brothers for appraisal.

"It's been in my family for generations. We used to drape sheets over it to make tents. I never really thought it would be worth anything."

"Well, you might be surprised to hear that this '70s relic is worth ten thousand dollars now."

"It's priceless to my family. We'll never sell it."


I still have that blankie. Anna cuddles in it.

The same chair in the picture above. My mom has it in her basement. She reads her devotions there in the same rocking chair where she nursed her babies.

The other "bow-bow chair." I think my sister claimed it. The little one in the picture is me after I got into my sister's Barbie lipstick.

Many of those ornaments survived. I think I covet those as well.