Built to last...
She cried as we drove away…
In all the years we’ve been buying vintage, that was a first.
We’ve felt the “loss” before. FOR SURE. What I mean is that we’ve been to estate sales hosted (mistakenly) by the families, in which the loss of Grandma or Grandpa is fresh. It’s palpable. But this was the first time that we’ve ever bought something from a living person who stood there and cried as we drove off with it.
This set belonged to her parents. It was originally upholstered in one of those soft, very pale pastel floral brocade fabrics from the 20’s or 30’s. I know because there was a matching petite settee with which the woman couldn’t part.
Her husband, while helping Robin heave the sofa into the trailer, tried to lighten the mood by telling us about the brave new lives they were headed for in Green Valley, Arizona. But I couldn’t help but feel that playing golf in the sun all day with friends was HIS dream… and that HER dreams were yet unformed because she’s spent the better part of her life dreaming on behalf of others. My suspicion was even confirmed when through her tears, she glanced back at the house murmuring, “We raised four kids here…”
I was witnessing a major life change that someone wasn’t sure they wanted. And, inevitably, I reflected on the changes my family has endured. And the antiques that have passed through our world.
When I was a kid, my parents had a similar, Victorian-style sofa and chair. It was actually upholstered in that same type of brocade floral fabric which came across as tone-on-tone because the colors were so soft and similar that at a distance, they read as one. But it was basically beige, gold and green.
I remember laying on it beneath a handmade afghan, watching Saturday morning cartoons while my brother cackled from a propped-up pillow on the green shag carpet. I remember my Mom flipping the coordinating foot stool up onto the matching armchair in order to vacuum. I would climb atop it and pretend I was a Queen. Emmylou Harris would be blaring so loud I could hear it over the hum of the old, clunky Kirby.
I remember when Dad got the set reupholstered because he “got it in the divorce.” I helped him pick out the velvety burnt pink fabric and coordinating burgundy stripe to go on the other “big chair.” He found the wool rug on his own (which I’ve now had in my living room for years). He tried very hard to make the best of a bad situation and convince me that playing decorator in our new place was fun during an otherwise awful time. But his pain was palpable. It was a major life change that someone wasn’t sure they wanted.
Unexpected things regularly happen. People die, kids grow up, families separate, and we all move on in one way or another. But well-made furniture can last for many lifetimes. Even centuries! People often say “if these walls could talk…” about historic homes. But what about antiques? Are you lucky enough to have anything that belonged to your parents or grandparents? What secrets do those items hold?
Perhaps the next people that own this beautiful sofa set will pass it down to their daughter -- as I will one day do with many things of my own. And, perhaps that woman, in her golden years, will also cry when it changes hands again. But don’t those tears add to the value? Isn’t it the memories antiques hold that make them so special?