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.
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