I’m sure somewhere along the line, we’ve all heard that question. If your house was burning, what would you grab first. We’ve probably all answered it with the obligatory children, partner, dog, cat, bird, grandparents, photos…. am I right? I’m sure it goes without saying that in the case of any trauma, floods, fire, earthquake etc, the first thing we would think of is our loved ones and of course, precious memories in the form of photos.
So, I’ll leave the “it goes without saying” category and tell you about my favorite thing in the house. It is my crystal cabinet. It’s common knowledge amongst family and friends how much I adore it. It was originally one of my grandmothers but I’m afraid I can’t remember which one. I have two pieces of furniture which sort of match, though one belonged to my Grandma (Dad’s mum) and the other belonged to Gargie, (Mum’s mum). Mum ended up with them both probably before I was born as I don’t remember home without them.
One is my crystal cabinet and the other is a bookcase with cupboard. Both have a scalloped edge and are beautiful old examples of beautiful furniture, made in a time when craftsmanship mattered. A time when things were made to last. A time of quality. When I was about 14, I asked Mum if I could sand back the bookcase as I needed one in my bedroom. It was in a pretty shabby state so she said yes.
When I look back at the job I did I cringe occasionally but at least I did it. I sanded it all back by hand, every deep groove, every straight edge and every graceful scalloped carving. I took an immense amount of pride in it. I gave it 2 coats of walnut varnish. It needs to be revamped again and this time I would probably give it closer to 10 coats with a steel wool polish between every coat. But I was only 14 and had absolutely no idea what I was doing and it still looked pretty damn good when I’d finished it. Gargie had also bought an old dressing table at the local church auction for the princely sum of $2 and when she died, it became part of my bedroom furniture, so I also gave that a dose of my very amateurish restoration.
The bookcase was the heaviest piece of furniture and it took all my muscle to drag it around when I felt like changing my room around but I did. It held pride of place in my bedroom for a long time along with Gargie’s dressing table. After I had a taste of restoration, it became a bit of an addiction and I claimed a small bedside cabinet for my room too. My brother had dribbled paint all over it in a semi psychedelic fashion and it had probably a 1/4 inch of paint on it, so I carefully stripped it all back… no paint stripper or heat gun.. just hard work. I gave that the obligatory 2 coats of walnut varnish too…… All of these pieces of furniture still have a place in my home today and are all badly in need of some TLC as they still have that same old walnut w varnish that I lovingly applied so many years ago. This year, they really must be given a huge spoonful of loving and steel wool.
I left home and got married, thinking I would have to leave the bookcase and bedside table at Mum’s as they were actually hers, not mine but when we were setting up our first home, she insisted I take them with me as i had put all the hard work into them. The dressing table had become mine years before so I of course took that too. I loved these items for many reasons… their history, their beauty, their character and of course, the amount of work I’d put into them. Nothing’s changed.. I still love them. If I won the lotto tomorrow, they are items that would still have pride of place in my home.
When Lachlan & Aimee were still only little, and Stuart not even born, Dad realised he was on very limited time in this life, so wanted Mum to be more settled when the time came for him to pass away and they made the decision to sell their house and build a granny flat in the back of my house. Stuart was born after they had shifted in and it was wonderful having them so close. I was the biggest Mummy’s girl from the time I was born I think and that never went away, so having her right there made me feel extremely happy. When they were in the process of selling the house and downsizing, I told Mum that if she was going to get rid of the crystal cabinet, i would buy it off them as I loved it so much and it matched my bookcase.
At the time she had no plans to get rid of it, but they were shifting in to a much smaller place so when someone offered them a few dollars for the crystal cabinet, knowing they would just sell it straight on for a profit, Mum said she had already given it to me. That was a surprise but as she said it, she gave me a look that threatened to break my neck if I contradicted her at that time. So I shut up. I thought she was just fobbing them off, but when we were alone she told me she’d rather I have it and do it up and she could still see and enjoy it. I was so excited by it, I couldn’t believe it.
I quickly took it back to our place in case she changed her mind and set to work immediately on restoring it to it’s former glory. It was in dreadful condition with teh leadlight all broken in it and the wood had taken quite a beating. This was a piece of furniture that lived in a house with 7 boys, 5 girls, heaps of grandchildren, visitors, grandparents and had just been knocked around quite a bit. So this time, realising it had to be just right and with 2 little kids and being pregnant again, I paid to get it professionally french polished. Oh what an amazing job. It was stunning, bringing the beauty of the wood to a high polished sheen.
I found a person to do the curved leadlight panels in exactly the same pattern as it was originally and the finished product was remarkable. Mum cried when she saw it as it was also her favorite piece of furniture. I shared her love of it and it became pride of place in my house. To make it even more special it was filled with trinkets from my life that mattered. The three tiny crystal chickens the kids gave me, representing each of them with me the mother hen. It had a vase with the Lord’s Prayer on it that Gargie had given me. It had the champagne glass my brother Pat and sister in law Lyn had bought me for my disastrous 21st birthday (but that story is for another day) It even held the Golden Foghorn award friends had made me out of an old car horn painted gold and mounted on a margarine container. Okay, I did and in fact, still do, have a very loud voice.
I’ve shifted a lot in the last 20 years for all sorts of reasons and trust me, I’m so over shifting. I will write more about that another day but suffice it to say, I’m an expert at packing nowadays. The very first thing to be packed up when I’m shifting is my crystal cabinet.. When I get to a house, after the beds and kettle, it’s usually the first thing to be set up. It’s never allowed to go in a truck. It is stuffed with the pillows from my bed and often my doona and is always put in the back of my car so I can drive as slowly as possible to avoid loosening the leadlight. Although one of the boys always helps me carry it, I’m always on one end of it as it’s my baby.
Today it carries all sorts of mementos of my life. It has all the same things it had before (minus the golden foghorn award that finally got chucked when the margarine container broke) but now has extras in it as well. It has the platter, gravy boat saucer and casserole dish lid (minus the gravy boat and casserole dish) that are the only pieces left out of the crockery setting Gargie bought for Mum and Dad as a wedding present. It has Scamp, who is a china dog whose body is made up of spice containers.. Ginger, Salt, Cinnamon, Allspice, Mustard & Pepper. I suppose his name really should be GSCAMP but we just called him Scamp and he used to sit on our table when I was a kid.
I have Aimee’s first shoes, a pair of little pink Desert Boots, alongside a trinket box with the letter A embroidered on it, which contains some of her tiny dolls she collected along with a lock of her hair, taken by the funeral parlour for me to keep. Alongside those are some of the fairies she had and other trinkets, as she was a hoarder… like her mother and grandmother before her. There are little collectables of the boys in there, along with their Bunnykins bowls and cups, which I will keep until they are ready to have them in their homes and hopefully, I’ll be able to feed my own grandchildren out of the same crockery.
There is all sorts of bits and pieces in there which all come with a story. I used to laugh when Mum would tell my kids the history behind all the stuff she had. Now I can’t wait to let my grandkids (when I finally get some) ooh and ahh over the contents like my kids used to. I look forward to telling them the meaning behind all the things in there. This is how family history is passed down. It’s not the contents, it’s the stories behind them. If those items could speak, they would tell a story of love, hopes, dreams, Sunday dinners around the table, celebrations and heartaches. It’s the memories in the crystal cabinet that I love. It tells the story of 4 generations and that is precious.
My boys have always known that in case of a fire, get themselves out first, the dog second and if they have time, the photo box… They have always said, after all that, if they could do it safely, the crystal cabinet would be carried out on their backs because they couldn’t stand to watch my reaction if I lost it lol. They say it as a joke, but I know they are serious. They have grown up looking through the glass at the treasures inside and loved it when their grandma told them all the stories, over and over again. They never got tired of listening to her telling them where it all came from and why it mattered. I know they would give the world to hear her voice telling them the same stories just once more. So would I!
But, it’s time to make a new story out of the old and a new generation with fresh ears when they are born, will hopefully be as entranced as their parents were as kids. I think Stuart will probably end up with it, as Lachlan likes more contemporary furniture, while Stu likes antiques. And hopefully one day, THEIR grandchildren will be listening to their Grandpas telling them the story of each piece of their history. It’s a bit like a patchwork quilt.. You take a bit of fabric from here and a bit from there.. sew them together and you have more than a quilt.. you have a family history.
Happy grabbing.. Livvy 🙂