I don’t know exactly how old I was when I accompanied my mother and father on a shopping trip to choose new furniture for their first home. I could not have been very old because I don’t think that either of my brothers had yet been born. I have vague memories of walking through furniture stores and feeling a bit bored. Then there is a remembrance that is as clear as if it had happened yesterday.
We were searching for a bedroom set for my parents. Suddenly they seemed to have found exactly what they wanted, a mahogany four poster bed with a tall chest with drawers. Alongside the set was a lady’s dressing table with a mirror and chair. After my parents had seemingly agreed on the bed and the chest I vividly recall my father walking over to the dressing table. He ran his had across the smooth almost glassy top and then began examining the drawers. He pulled them in and out, smiling as he commented that they were very well made. Then I remember him turning to my mother and with an impish grin as he said, “I want to get this for you as well.”
My parents were still in their twenties at the time and very much in the early grip of love. Soon the furniture would arrive at our home and I thought it was so beautiful that even royalty would find it worthy of owning. My mother found a lovely rose colored silk bedspread to set off the gleaming dark wood. She put her combs and brushes and lotions and powder inside the drawers of the dressing table. Each week she would carefully dust and sometimes polish the wood.
When my mother was only thirty years old my father died. His last gift to her would be a set of small lamps to place on her dressing table. They were adorned with tiny rosebuds that picked up the color of the bedspread that Mama had chosen. She would place them lovingly on the dressing table where they would remain until she too had died over fifty years later.
Over time the bedroom set showed the scars of time and wear and tear. When my mother died none of us had room in our homes for the bedroom set that had been such a treasure to my parents. One of my brothers put them in a storage unit where they languished for a time. Then one day my brother announced that he was letting the storage unit go. He said that he was going to trash anything left inside that nobody wanted.
My eldest daughter immediately claimed the dressing table. She said that she had lovely memories of sitting on the chair and styling her hair while her Grammy smiled at her. She suggested that she might one day restore it to its former glory. In the meantime she would store it in her garage until she found the time to make it lovely once again.
As the years went by the dressing table sat in a corner of her garage, looking dreary and unloved. My daughter would often insist that she had not forgotten her hidden treasure, but her busy schedule had consumed her time. She assured us all that one day she would take on the task of making it beautiful again.
With all of her sons either working are off at college she suddenly had an empty house and a bit more time to take on projects. Finally she put down a tarp and began the process of removing the old finish and carefully sanding the surfaces of the dressing table. She repaired broken sections and took her time with each step of the process. She decided to modernize the piece by sanding and restaining the dark mahogany top, but painting the bottom of the structure with a cream color. The results were stunning.
When she sent me a photo of how the work was progressing I was amazed at how beautiful the old battered dressing table now looked. I found myself remembering that trip with my parents when my father impulsively decided to buy the piece for my mother. I thought of how he had moved the drawer in and out, in and out, until he was satisfied that the craftsmanship would last a lifetime.
As my daughter was describing the long process that she had used, she mentioned how well made the dressing table was. She was particularly impressed with the fact that the drawers still moved in and out without sticking or showing signs of being warped. I cried when I heard this. I thought of my father being so very careful to purchase something that would last. I imagined him and my mother in heaven being very pleased.
My daughter is taking her time. She is letting the paint on the drawers dry for a very long time before she puts them back in place. She does not want to be too anxious and create problems with sticking. She still has to repair the mirror and the chair, but she has made a magnificent start to creating an heirloom that hopefully will remain in the family for years.
We hear stories of young people giving away old furniture and trinkets because it is not their style. I wonder if they would feel the same way if they heard the stories and the histories associated with certain things. Something may look like just stuff, but sometimes special pieces contain beautiful memories that everyone can understand. I’m happy that my mother’s dressing table has a new life. It was so much a part of who she and my father were. Love resides there and now my daughter can pass it down.
And here it is with the drawers. The mirror is still in progress…