Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Adopted Heirlooms

There are three heirlooms in my home that did not come down through family channels, but are treasured keepsakes nonetheless. They were given to us by church members while we were living in Smiley.

My father was not only pastor of the Smiley First Baptist Church; he also served as pastor of the small, neighboring Baptist congregation in Westhoff, a tiny community twelve miles east of Smiley. The Westhoff Baptist Church was a fascinating old building that I visited often, whether at services where I sometimes filled in as the pianist, or whether I practiced piano there while my mother was having her hair done by a lady who lived a few doors away.

There was a dear lady who was a member of that tiny congregation. When we first met her, she was Mrs. Winslet, a sweet little widow. During my father's tenure there as pastor, she married a Mr. Cordes, also a member of the church, and we frequently visited in their home after services. My mother and Mrs. Cordes would talk antiques on some of those social visits and she gave two items in her collection to my mother.

A pressed glass bread tray had been rescued by Mrs. Cordes from a neighbor's chicken pen. The family had been using it to hold water or feed for their chickens and somehow, miraculously, it had survived the elements and the chickens without a chip. I believe she traded the neighbor a more appropriate container and the bread tray survived to be given to my mother. It is old enough that it was carefully stored in the china cabinet for years and never used. Several years ago I ran across a twin of the bread tray in a local antiques store for a ridiculously low price and could not resist bringing it home with me, so I now have a matched set. More recently I spotted a third one at the Round Top Antiques Fair, but it was not so reasonably priced and I had to pass it by.

When I brought home the antique oak vanity a couple of Antiques Fairs ago, I began searching for a tray to hold my cosmetics and was unhappy with the cheap, gaudy trays available. I went rooting around in the china closet and rediscovered the bread trays. I decided it was time that I enjoyed some of the glass that has stayed hidden in the closet all these years and chose one of the trays to sit on my vanity. I have not regretted the decision and have thoroughly enjoyed having it out where I can see and admire it daily.

On another occasion, Mrs. Cordes gave my mother a lamp that I assume dates back to the Art Deco period. It was a murky color, missing a finial and came with a battered green oval lampshade, but it had lovely lines and a pretty green glass accent. Mother sprayed the lamp white and, unfortunately, discarded the lampshade. (I've not been able to find an appropriate lampshade anywhere. How I wish she had hung onto the frame so that I could have recovered it.) Mother chose to use candle bulbs and leave it shadeless. Not too long ago, I decided to add two small shades and a glass finial and I love the effect. I've always been rather fond of this lamp and Mother officially gave it to me one Christmas.

Not too long ago I was poking around the Elgin Antique Mall and stumbled across a lamp that is in original condition.

Now I know that my version of the lamp is closer to the original design. Now I have a mission to locate a set of original glass shades and the original finial that echoes the arms of the lamp. I would have happily added the second lamp to my collection, but, alas, it was way out of my price range. I continue to check on it, hoping that it will go on sale at some point. At least now I know what my lamp originally looked like.

The third adopted heirloom came from inside a chicken house in Smiley. I do not remember the details of how it came that the church member knew Mother would be interested in a parlor stove. It had been stored in the chicken house for years, but it had beauty that shone out from the years of grime and dirt it had accumulated. Mother cleaned it up, painted it, and it has been sitting in a corner of the living room for a good 40 or more years.

I have to confess that I was never all that enamored of this particular acquisition and seriously contemplated putting it up for sale in order to recapture a bit of space. Then I got to checking various online auction sites and began to realize that these old parlor stoves are quite collectible in certain circles. About the same time, a repairman I had called out for some air conditioning troubles caught sight of it and had to take a few minutes out to examine it from all angles. I decided I should back up and rethink my attitude. I started to do some research to see just what I had.

It turns out this stove dates to the early 1900s. In the October 5, 1905, edition of the Earlington, Kentucky, Bee, my stove is advertised by a furniture company out of Evansville, Indiana.

According to the advertisement, these stoves were sold for between $5 and $25 dollars, depending on size. That would be comparable to $120 to $598 dollars now, a modest investment for a home improvement. The folks who brought home my parlor stove in the early 1900s were probably just as proud of it as I am of my new washing machine.

For now, the stove is staying right where it is. I've learned a new respect for it.

All of these adopted heirlooms have been with me since the mid 1960s. Maybe they did not come down through my own family, but they have become valued friends over the years. They give me pleasure for their beauty and also for their association with Smiley and Westhoff, two places that are dear in my memory. Mrs. Cordes has been gone for many years, but every time I see the lamp or the bread tray, I think about her. Mr. Robinson is gone now, too, but I remember him whenever I pass by the old stove.

I'm not sure whether the items themselves or the memories they evoke are the real heirlooms in this instance.