I adored my husband’s grandmother. She was a walking family history book, full of interesting stories and names that went farther back in years than I could comprehend. Love flowed from her generously…through her eyes and her smile and in the touch of her sweet, dainty, aged hands. Here she is as a young girl on an outing with relatives and the second picture is cropped to make her closer.
The first picture below shows her as a young woman and the next as I knew her years later.
Her love wasn’t given without thought. She certainly let you know if you were outside the boundaries of acceptable behavior – this I knew from hearing her speak with concern about others and from a few light personal reprimands which swiftly put me in my place. Thankfully, in her eyes, I was usually well within the correct boundaries and she felt me worthy of her love, her treasures and her heritage. She handed family pieces down, not to me, but through me. There was an unspoken understanding that the items had transcended time to date and that the furniture she loved was meant to stay in the family with those who put value on not just the furniture’s age and style, but on the people who had owned them and the rich history they symbolized, all which came with the names I married into.
There were also things she passed down to other relatives. And there was something that was too big to pass down to any of us.
I tried to remember what she shared about her treasured items – where they came from and who they belonged to. I had a collection of bits of information on scribbled notes from conversations, phone calls and letters through the years which created pieces of a puzzle that, when put together, form a tale to be passed along. Processing the information and remembering it was a challenging task while my young children were spreading their own version of love through feet that never slowed down and lips that were generous with slobbery kisses. My fractured notes and my memory weave together this story….
A very tall and majestic Victorian hand-carved head and foot board stood in a bedroom in her home. With it was a matching dresser and a piece that Grandma called a “commode”. She said her Aunt Emma got the family bed from her mother (Grandma’s grandma). Emma is at bottom left in this picture of five sisters.
When Emma’s husband died, she gave the bedroom furniture to an nearby historical society with the understanding that if any family member wanted it, it could be taken out. When Grandma moved with her family to a bigger home, her Aunt Emma got the bed for her from that historical society. Many years later, after using, loving and caring for it, it was time for Grandma to downsize. She asked family members if they wanted the set. It stands seven to eight feet tall and is very heavy. Nobody was able to practically move it and fit it in their home, so Grandma donated the bed and dresser to her city’s historical society. She hoped it would be with the same agreement that it could be released to a family member if one wanted it, but that’s not how things work today. Grandma kept the small commode, taking it to an apartment and then to a nursing home with her. The bed and dresser remains at the historical society today.
When they were donated, they had a permanent beautiful room in the museum and the name of our beloved grandma was displayed as the donor. There, their beauty and history were shared with whomever passed through.
Some years ago, the historical society needed to move from its location, but did not have a new location secured. The items they owned went into storage. When I called about the status of the family bed a few years ago, I was assured that it was valued and safe and that it would have a place in their new location when the building was ready. I recently checked the website and then talked with someone at the location. What I discovered is that the new location is much smaller and the displays are rotated to maintain the interest of viewers. Surely, this is not what Grandma envisioned and it would disappoint her to know her lovely bed spends most of its days in storage. The fact that it is old and is taken apart and put together multiple times is not good for its stability or longevity. However, it’s still likely the best place for it to live a long and appreciated life. It is on display now and a nice board member took pictures the bed and the dresser as it looks today.
Still appreciated as once our family bed, it is being viewed by those who come to the museum and Grandma’s name is still there as the donor. It is an active reminder of an era, a heritage and a woman worth remembering.