My home is full of old furniture. I sleep on the futon my husband had when we met; the same pine futon base he used as a bachelor. My family eats meals off an old green enamel table from the 1920s that my Dad found in the basement of a house he was flipping in Apple River, Illinois. Our living room is a mish mash of my parents old furniture, thrift store finds, and a few new pieces thrown in for good measure.
For almost a decade I worked in a retirement community in Chicago’s posh North Shore. When older adults moved into a different space as their needs changed, much of their furniture might not fit into a smaller floor plan. It was always a relief for them to learn that they could donate their leftover furniture, which retro poseurs like me could pick over each Monday and Thursday morning at the Women’s Board Thrift Shoppe. I kid you not that half the furniture in my home was bought from aging Presbyterians.
Are we cheap or purveyors of fine older recyclables? Pffft. Probably a bit of both.
When my Dad died last spring, my sibs and I were tasked with cleaning out his condo — the leftovers of his life and our childhood. I’ve written about the process before, and no doubt, will do so again. It is a profound process, this cleaning out, throwing out, and letting go. A concrete goodbye that feels about as final as I imagine anything ever will for me.
In 1958, my parents were married. They bought a home together — a brick raised ranch on Chicago’s Southeast side not far from my grandparent’s home, and furnished it with money my Mom had saved from a settlement she received after a car accident that nearly took her life a few years earlier. This was the furniture of my youth. Most of it wasn’t replaced until the 1980s, an era far less chic than the mid-century modern of their earlier purchases.
Those seashell chairs have been reupholstered with a nubby teal and are grand in my sister’s Brooklyn apartment. The black sectional is in my other sister’s basement, though its seen more than a few slipcovers over the years. The round coffee table anchors my own living room. I love it and often hear my father boast about the Philippine hardwood it was made from.
As we cleared out the condo, all that was left was a hodge podge of pieces. My Dad was even more sentimental than I, if possible. There was my family’s dining room set that he kept until the end. Even part of my grandparents dining room, too, as my Dad had a hard time letting go when they moved out of their home.
The dining room of my youth was more of the mid-century chic. 1958 Drexel. Six chairs, dining table, and china cabinet. All with clean lines and spare style. None of my siblings or I claimed it. My brother didn’t need it as a bachelor, my local sister is not into mid-century pieces, my Brooklyn sister had neither means or space to move it across the country. And while I love the pieces, we had a Heywood Wakefield set gifted to us when we moved into our first home. I could never bear to part with it.
So the dining room went unclaimed. It never felt right, but we knew, eventually, it would have to go. We even had trouble giving the set away, as, apparently, there is a glut of similar pieces on the market. Not even local churches wanted it. Man, when St. Vincent De Paul tells you to take a hike, you know you’re saddled with something.
Then, just last week, there was a text. A friend of our realtor shares a similar style and wanted to look at the set. She loved it. Could she have it? I honestly didn’t realize how important it was to me until I got the news that someone else wanted it. Yes! Please! It is yours! A warm sense of sweet relief washed over me. My childhood dining room set had found a new home, a new family.
The moving truck that would carry the set to its new owners stopped by my home last week, as I had found two extra leaves and pads for the dining table I wanted to include. And it struck me, as I fished out those leaves from deep storage just how significant this idea of passing on furniture truly is. “Leaves” itself is such an alive, organic term.
The life of a family happens around a dining room table. Thanksgiving turkeys are carved, birthday candles are blown out, high school term papers are written using three volumes of the 1968 Encyclopedia Britannica spread out next to the typewriter, forts are built with the table’s protective pads. Endless joys and sorrows happen around dining room tables.
Family happens around a dining room table.
And as sad as I am to say goodbye to this slice of my childhood, my family history, I am so, so happy with the idea of another family creating new life and memories around it. More holidays, more birthdays, more celebrations, more sadnesses, more leaves, more life.