A couple of weeks ago I took my mum to meet up with her brother. He emigrated to Cincinnati 40 years ago, so they don’t see each other often. Anyway, he was in the UK and so a trip was arranged.
Amidst all the reminiscing and funny stories, my aunt wondered what had happened to their dinning room furniture, which had been passed to my nan before they went to the US. I can confidently say that they never expected me to say ‘oh, your dresser is in my kitchen and my sister has the gate-legged table’. Discussion revealed that they had bought these items (along with some dining chairs, which I used to have but which did not stand the test of time quite so well) when they were first married – 58 years ago. I’m sure that when it was bought they never envisaged it would have such longevity, nor that it would end up being used in such a practical way – apparently, it original served to display a set of willow-pattern plates (now in the possession of one of my cousins).
I hadn’t really considered it anything but a nice story, but on reflection it says a lot that we should be surprised that a modern piece of furniture would be passed through the family. We tend to think that antique furniture is the only sort worth preserving, but why not well-made, useful modern pieces? I think that this is the sort of attitude that we need to foster – to see the value in what we have. Certainly, if I was going out to buy a dresser, I wouldn’t choose such dark wood, but equally, I am very fond of what I have. And my fondness is not just because it’s a useful item, it’s because of the family history, the stories, my memories of it in my grandmother’s living room. When I lived in an ancient cottage, this dresser and a pantry represented the only storage space in my kitchen, but now I have a fitted kitchen it’s still useful and used every day.
So, let’s celebrate such ‘heirlooms’ and not consign them to the rubbish. After all, they are tomorrow’s antiques!