I live in a town that is known as “The Antiques Capital of the Midwest” – there were once 75+ antique shops on Main Street – but I am not an antiquer. I have just a few heirlooms in my house – and each of them has a story associated with a member of my family.
This is the first one I ever got – a little ceramic bulldog wearing a sailor cap. It belonged to my great-grandma and I always noticed it when I was growing up. After she died, her possessions went to the family, with first choice going to the children and then the grandchildren. So when the great-grandchildren’s turn came, I was thrilled that the only little piece I was interested in was still there.
Years later when my mom’s parents downsized and moved into an apartment, I picked up the trunk that my great-grandparents “set up housekeeping in” and my grandma’s old Singer sewing machine and cabinet.
But my favorite (and least favorite) story of family heirloom furniture started in 1981, a few weeks after my dad’s father died (his mom had died four years earlier). Dad and his three siblings gathered to disperse the furnishings before Grandpa’s house was sold. In the interests of fairness, my dad brought along four of my brother’s old Lite-Brite pegs – three clear ones and a red one. As the kids went to each piece of furniture, if more than one wanted it a Lite-Brite peg for each was put into a bowl – which was held high as each pulled one out. And whoever got the red Lite-Brite peg won the prize.
Since I was about a year from getting married, Dad asked me if I was interested in any of the furniture. There were only two pieces that I really wanted – the old console radio in the spare bedroom, and to a lesser degree the china cabinet in the kitchen. With my interest in broadcasting, the radio was fascinating to me – a huge floor model that stood about four feet tall, with pushbuttons to switch from AM to FM to shortwave to TV audio (which was amazing to me since TV didn’t exist yet when it was built). Alas, Aunt Jean got the radio and Uncle Orris got the china cabinet.
I didn’t think about it for years – but one night Dad and I were talking about those Lite-Brite pegs and I mentioned how much I had wanted that radio. The next day, he called Jean to tell her in case she ever decided to part with it – and found out that two days before she had pulled it out of the barn loft (seriously?) and donated it to her church rummage sale. Oh, I was crushed – even considered trying to track down the buyer to see if I could get it back. I didn’t – but to this day I still regret not voicing my interest sooner.
All of this brings me to Tuesday of this week, when Dad called to tell me that Orris and his wife Patty were downsizing and wanted to know if I was interested in the china cabinet. They live about three miles from our mail center – I was there within an hour. The cabinet was in a part of their house that I had never entered when I visited – but it looked exactly like it did the last time I had seen it 34 years ago. During the process, I learned more about its history – it originally came from the Sears Roebuck catalog (in the days when you could order a house – and practically anything else – from Sears) and was assembled by my great-grandfather, who died before I was born.
Last night, I loaded it into our company truck and it came to my house – where it fit perfectly into a corner of the dining room. It didn’t come with a red Lite-Brite peg, but I am thrilled after all these years to have a part of my grandparents’ heritage in my home.