Time Tested

Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparents’ pots and pans, the used things, warm with generations of human touch, essential to a human landscape. Instead, we have our paper phantoms, transistorized landscapes. A featherweight portable museum.
~Susan Sontag

My mother’s friend Marie loved antiques – her house was a veritable museum of quilts from the Amish, and glassware from the Depression.  Even her dining room furniture was antique, an old pine table and chairs which, for all its loving refurbishment, still bore the nicks and scars of its ancient and former life.

My mother occasionally went “antiquing” with Marie, the pair of them driving off in Marie’s little red Mustang convertible, brightly colored babushka’s tied round their freshly done beauty parlor beehives, traveling out into the country to look for estate sales and resale shops.

My grandmother, left behind to babysit for me, would complain vociferously about my mother’s forays into the world of antique shopping. 

“I swear,” she would grumble, plopping my lunch plate onto the red Formica table in our kitchen, ” I don’t know why anyone would want that old stuff.  I had enough of old stuff like that when I was growin’ up…why I surely don’t have any use for it now.”

I sat quietly munching my toasted cheese sandwich, not daring to mention that I rather liked “that old stuff.” It sent little shivers down my spine to caress the soft patina of Marie’s dining room table, knowing that some other child perhaps a hundred years before had touched that very same spot. 

My mother never purchased much on those jaunts.  Occasionally, she’d come back with a piece of glassware – a china pitcher or a teapot.  Once, she brought home an (almost) complete tea service that was said to have belonged to Henry Ford (the first).  I remember fondling those paper thin china cups, imagining Mr. Ford coming home after a day of supervising cars being built, and settling down in his parlor to be served hot tea in this very cup.

I have that tea set now, nestled into a corner of my china cabinet.  The sugar bowl (which was missing its lid when my mother purchased it) is in daily use and sits on my kitchen counter.  There are a handful of “antiques” in my house, and I can tell you the story of each one.  The Nippon china tea set that was a wedding gift to my mother in law from the doctor whose children she babysat.  The pink cookie plate that belonged to my paternal grandmother, a woman I never even met,  but whom everyone tells me I strongly resemble.  The ruby ring which belonged to my Aunt Sally with the date of purchase (1892) engraved inside the band. 

It’s the back stories that make these possessions more than just “some old stuff,” and give them an essential value and importance, that make them unique to our own personal landscape. 

Although I don’t actively seek out antique objects for my home, I rather cherish these few that have fallen into my possession.  They’ve stood the test of time, and connect me with a small portion of the past. 

I like that.

inspired by Cafe Writing

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7 thoughts on “Time Tested

  1. Pingback: Cafe Writing » November/December Participants

  2. When my parents moved away this summer, we acquired all kinds of furniture and pottery I had grown up with. I love having it around, love the memories it triggers, love thinking that my daughter might some day enjoy it as well. As for the rest of our furniture, it’s all so old it kind of looks antique. Does that count?

  3. I love antiques too. My house if full of them. Many of them belonged to my husband’s family. I found others in shops and barns and such. Like you, I often wonder about who may have used them over a hundred years ago.

  4. I’m glad you also see the value of things from the past. If my mother could come back to life she’d feel very comfortable in my home. My dining room contains my grandmother’s furniture plus some of my mother’s. One china cabinet is filled with a lime-green, handpainted set of china that my grandmother bought piece by piece as some of her talented friend’s painted it.

    In the living room I have my mother’s secretary and her grandmother clock, her end tables, her gaming table, and one of a pair of beautiful porcelain lamps she received as a wedding gift early in the 1930s. I have another porcelain lamp from my grandmother that was made years ago from a beautiful handpainted urn. My guest room contains my mother’s original bedroom suite from early in her marriage. There are many other pieces of furniture or smaller items scattered around my home that once belonged to my mother or grandmother. Some are antiques, some are “elderly” and on their way to becoming antiques. I’ve added things of my own that blend in with them and dressed them up with some oil paintings that compliment the ones my parents owned.

    Daddy Dawg’s sister has never been to our home but when she saw a photo on my blog from Christmas last year she commented that we have a “grandmother’s house”. Yes, we do in some of the rooms and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I no longer have parents or grandparents, but I have some of the things they knew and loved. I even have a HUGE collection of greeting cards that my mother kept from when she was in the hospital after having given birth to me, her only child. She kept them for all of these years and although I have no real use for them, they’re a link to my past.

    More people need to value the past and the history of their lives. It saddens me to know that some young people don’t even know the location of major cities in our country, and once when I was at our state’s vital records office I heard a young woman ask her mother for the name of the girl’s own grandparents so she could fill out a form. Imagine, not knowing the name of your own grandparents. So sad.

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