Something old, something new (or nothing new)

My parents Jacobean Rival furniturewith 21st-century computer

My parents Jacobean Rival furniture
with 21st-century computer

My parents were married in 1937. At the time my father was a pastor (a student pastor—he had just graduated from William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, and was on his way to study at Central Baptist Seminary in Kansas City, Kansas). I don’t have the records in front of me, so I’m not sure if his charge was the Baptist church Rosedale, Kansas, or the Baptist church in Winifred, Kansas, both suburbs of Kansas City.

I have heard many times the story of the “shivaree” the church gave my parents when they moved into the parsonage after the wedding.

Shortly after that my parents bought their first home furnishings. They bought a heavy walnut-stained oak dining room table and five chairs (one an armchair) in the popular  Jacobean Revival Style  in vogue at the time. However one may describe the style (heavy, ponderous, dark, overly-ornate—adjectives that come to mind), it’s easy to see it was sturdy stuff.

Today, these 75-or-so years later, I am sitting at the table writing.

The dining set is in my sister’s dining room. I’ve pulled back the table cloth to show the legs, the “globular excrescences of the columns” as Wikipedia describes them. My picture is intended to show that my parents bought furniture to use, not to exhibit. Seventy-five years of use have left the pieces scarred but intact (the chair seats many times recovered). The furniture has been in dining rooms in Kansas, two towns in Wyoming, three cities in Nebraska, and three cities in California.

I don’t know if this furniture is beautiful. I have no objective standard for it. The heavy and overwrought style is nothing I would ever buy for myself. My sister would not buy such furniture, either. However, when one of her daughters asked her for it, she was unable to let it go. I could not have done so.

Here is my commonplace truth about family stuff. Most of us have some physical object that has come to us from parents, grandparents, or relatives even farther back. Some people do not, of course, either because such objects were not saved or because they simply do not want them.

I don’t understand.

My family has kept more stuff from the past than we ought, I suppose. I’ve written before about my grandmother’s sewing machine. It’s in my living room, for goodness’ sake (as she would have said). I don’t sew, and I don’t have room for it. Give it up?

Not on your life.

Not on MY life, that is. However, I am not clinging to the past. I am not stuck in some “family system” (perhaps I am, but that’s not important here) that requires me to hold on to my place in the family by holding on to relics of the family’s past.

Jacobean-Kansan buffet

Jacobean-Kansan buffet

I do hold a certain reverence for the stuff I own (and that my sister, my brother, and our cousins own) that belonged to our forebears. I love these old things because of memories. This table has been the site of family love feasts, family battles; family work (my mother’s sewing comes to mind), family play (dominoes, Rook, puzzles); family devotions, family discussions. It was in one sense the center of our family’s life together.

What the other members of my family feel about old things I do not know for sure. For me, these “heirlooms” (that’s what we’d call them if they were of great monetary value) help me stay grounded.

Either because the quirky seizure activity in my brain makes identifying “reality” problematic a great deal of the time (dissociation being one of the primary “symptoms”), or because I am bent on thinking too much without having the mental acumen to come to conclusions, I have a great deal of difficulty understanding—or believing—that the world did not begin and will not end with my time here.

I believe this table existed in 1937 because my parents told me it did. I believe it will probably exist after I am gone, either in the dining room of one of my nieces or nephews or in the home of someone who will buy it as an “antique.” Contemplating my non-existence after my death is impossible. Terrifying.

It is comforting to know, to be reasonably certain, that “things” I know—that I like or love, that are familiar—can connect me with the most important persons in my life, past and future. That comfort inhabits the present and helps make it—I don’t mean this dramatically—bearable.

There’s nothing profound or unusual about this—pretty ordinary stuff—except that I’ve now said it.

And outside, Rosemary

And outside, Rosemary

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