Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Family heirlooms

My good friend Skip posted a piece of delightful length about the family dog - although really it was about family heirlooms.  So, not to be outdone, here is my two-pennyworth.

When I was a child living in the Medway towns, my paternal grandparents lived in the house next door to ours.  Those houses were two in the middle - well, nearly the middle - of a terrace of six.  The layout of the houses was identical, except that each was the mirror image of the houses on either side.  For example, in our house, when entering by the front door the stairs were on the left and to the right of them was the passage to the rest of the ground floor.  This consisted of a front room (rarely used, although I still remember having to piano practice in that room which just had a parafin heater) with the main living room (which we called the back room) behind that.  There was a small larder/pantry off this room at the far right corner.  Beside the back room was the kitchen with the copper for boiling the laundry, an ancient gas stove, a sink with a gas water heater over and a table fastened by hinges to the wall opposite the cooker so it could be raised or lowered as necessary.  Beyond the kitchen was a small lobby with a door to the back garden and the toilet just beyond.

Upstairs was very similar with a double bedroom at the front, a small double over the back room, an even smaller single over the kitchen and the bathroom at the front beside the big double bedroom.  The bathroom was just that: a bath with a huge, scary geyser to heat the water and a hand basin.

I really don't know why I have gone on at such length about the layout of our house as it has absolutely nothing to do with family heirlooms, which (in case you've forgotten) is what I'm supposed to be writing about.

Apart from a couple of nights in hospital when I had my tonsils removed, the first time I spent a night away from my mother was when I slept at my grandparent's house next door.  These days it would be called a sleepover but that word hadn't been invented then.  I slept in the little back bedroom where, as well as the bed, there was a chest of drawers.  There was little room for anything else.  For some reason, I seem to think that chest of drawers was painted black.

My grandparents, Simon and Alice, had married in 1913.  I'm not certain, but I suspect that chest of drawers was one of their early acquisitions as far as furniture was concerned.  I doubt it was new and it might even date from Victorian times.  Anyway, after my grandmother's death, my parents kept the chest.  It stood, now painted white, in their small, third bedroom.  The drawers all tended to stick and it could be quite a struggle to open any of them to discover what tat my mother had secreted.  After her death we found the drawers full of Christmas cards she had bought but not sent, jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing, balls of wool: as I said, all sorts of tat.

The Old Bat and I were, by then, the owners of an old house in France where the floor of the hall was terra cotta tiles, the ceiling varnished tongued and grooved timber and a big space needing to be filled.  I was slightly surprised that my brother had no wish to acquire the chest of drawers and I knew it was just what we needed in France.  Mind you, the white paint would have to go.  I did consider spending hours with paint stripper but in the end made a mistake and had the chest professionally dipped to strip the paint.  This, unfortunately, had the effect of warping some of the drawers.  All the same, after numerous layers of beeswax lovingly applied, the chest stood in our hall in Brighton before I could take it to France.

It is now in France and I think fits the house perfectly.


The trouble was, we now had a gap in the hall in Brighton.  I eventually managed to buy a similar chest which needed some TLC and was probably over-priced but one drawer is full of things for the grandchildren to play with: colouring books and crayons, jigsaws, playdough, kaleidescope and numerous other things.  They love it - but the family heirloom is still beyond their ken.

1 comment:

Uncle Skip, said...

Thanks for the link my friend. We might start a whole series of furniture stories... whenever I get back from vacation.