Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Furniture Diary

What is this? I opened the envelope I received in the mail and pulled out an old brown book. Inside the yellowed pages, were pictures of furniture--odd looking furniture that belonged to another time and place. Words written in black quill pen described each photograph.

Chest of drawers mahogany. with the deep top "bonnet drawer." About 1835-40. Probably in the wedding outfit of Great-grandmother Mahala Bentley Goodman.

Child's high chair 1801. The top of the chair is an oxbow. Five generations have sat in the chair.

The lace-covered pincushion was bought in 1860 by Great-grandmother Cook. "and cost seven dollars," a fact handed down with it.

Pine corner cupboard 1750 - 1770
From the Marshall house in Schuylerville, N.Y., which was within the British lines during the battle of Saratoga 1777.

The book was from my Great Uncle Dick West who was a pipe-smoking newspaper reporter. He married my grandmother's little sister, a nutritionist at Babies Hospital (New York) and later at Samford Hospital in Connecticut. They lived together in a big old house full of family heirlooms and antiques in Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire. Built in 1805, this house was originally called "The Market House" because its original owner kept a store there. My Great-Aunt and Uncle called it "The Fitzwilliam House."

Great-Uncle Dick's father owned the home, and it stayed in the family until Dick and Irene were too old to maintain the place. They sold it to George and Elizabeth McKendry, and moved to an assisted living facility in Northern California. (They did not have any children.)

Upon doing some research, I found out the house was sold with the family furniture intact. The wife of the new owner was an antique dealer. In a letter at the time of the sale, Mr. McKendry wrote to my Great-Uncle. "Thank you for leaving so much of yourselves behind." The new owners eventually divorced, and the furniture is gone. It's probably scattered around New Hampshire, or who knows where. (aaaagh!)

View of old Fitzwilliam (town). The house and barn in center of picture.

As I grew up in Southern California, I wasn't aware of Dick and Irene's home or heirlooms. They lived so far away and I knew their names only on my birthday and Christmas cards.

When Dick and Irene passed away (in California), their few remaining belongings were sent to me. This happened because of a simple phone call. I don't know why, but one day I decided to call Dick and get to know him. Rene had passed away years earlier and I pictured him up North all alone.

I'll give him a call and surprise him. His warm voice boomed a hearty welcome to my call. We had a great conversation. We talked about history, and current world events—the Iron Curtain had just fallen and Dick was in awe of this large chapter of history closing— the end of the "cold war" he had lived through and written about. We planned to talk again soon. The next time I called, Dick told me he was going in for tongue surgery in a few days, and he wanted to send me some things. Sadly, he never came out of surgery. But happily he knew the Lord.

One of the things he sent was the furniture diary. The book is about 25 pages and was compiled by Dick's mother—who one will surmise after reading her notes—was an adept historian. Much of the furniture had been in the family for three to five generations. In quill pen, Dick's mother wrote a brief history of each piece.

"In 1843, Great-Grandfather Cool went into the wilderness to oversee the cutting of a tract of timber which he owned, and took his bride with him. Great-aunt Juliet was born there the next year, and an old French carpenter made this chair "to rock the baby in." One rung is made of a little crooked branch."

This is not the rocker described above. But note the "spindles to support the arms" (1780)
Also pictured a "Wool wheel" and "Flax wheel"

Inspired by the diary, I decided to make my own furniture journal. The next time I visited my mother I took pictures of her tea-cart, chest of drawers and other assorted items, and asked her for their story. In my own home, sits my grandmother's writing desk, and other items of family interest...simple things...but treasures to me. The furniture book will have no shortage of material.

On my mom and dad's counter sit my grandmother Hatton's mugs.
On my mother's shelf sit my grandmother Winans thimbles and candle holder. In the background, a picture of my mother and me.

The photo above shows Dick and Rene in younger years. The picture was taken in Ventura, California as they visited Rene's mother and father, my great-grandparents.

Two things I've learned from all this--Number One: Enjoy and treasure my older relatives and ask them lot's of questions. Lesson Two: Don't live in the past. Enjoy today.

Oh...and Lesson Three: Never pass up an adventure. I hope to go to New Hampshire one day and see the home. And hunt down some furniture.


Pat Stockett Johnston said...

What a fabulous gift! When we toured Israel, our guide told us the most precious object found in archeological sites is words--and you have both precious words and pictures. I can understand why you'd be planning a trip to New Hampshire right away.

Dawn said...

How very special! I'm so glad you got to meet him at least by phone. If you go to New Hampshire, make it in early October!

Glenda said...

What treasures!! Priceless!

Janey Loree said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Janey Loree said...

Love this post! You have inspired me to do a little documenting myself!! So you are saying "Enjoy the treasures from the past while enjoying the adventures of today"?!!! Have a wonderful day, Sharon!

Susan Skommesa said...

This is a very fun post Sharon! :) What a great history! I've been catching up on many posts I'd not gotten a chance to see. I'm jazzed I'm doing this as there have been some great posts I'm glad I won't be mising. In particular, this one is a real treasure.