Our huge library of books dates back to 1961, the year Harvey and I brought together our books for better or for worse. Since then, in addition to my grandfather’s library of leather bound classics I’ve inherited massive family antiques. The walnut breakfront stands eight feet high with deep, wide drawers at its base. In my childhood, the top displayed The Complete Works of Sir Walter Scott behind its glass doors. Today these shelves show off my grandmother’s china. Her ornamental platters are safe behind the stalwart giant’s glass doors. The breakfront’s been in my life for as long as I can remember. In my early days, it stood outside my bedroom door in our upstairs hall. With the breakfront standing guard like a faithful sentinel, I felt safe throughout the night.
Then there’s my grandmother’s ornate cabinet. Delicate gold rimmed, paper-thin china coffee cups and saucers, a creamer and a sugar bowl are on display behind its delicate glass doors. As everything else I’ve inherited from family, it comes with a story.
Before their 1891 wedding in Amherstburg, a small Canadian town near Detroit, my grandmother, Josephine Brown, was given a wedding present of tiny china coffee cups. Her husband-to-be, John Henning surprised her with the cabinet to hold the cups. Today, sitting in the brocade-covered chair where she held me on her lap, I look at her cabinet and feel close to her. She truly loved me and I loved her.
Weekends meant trips to Kingston in search of the perfect house. Alas, it was a sleek little modern bungalow that finally felt just right to both of us. It was within walking distance of our offspring. Alas, there was no room for Victorian antiques. Gradually, gradually, I began to imagine myself without all those family treasures. My energy is limited. I think of it as money in the bank. If I spend it polishing silver and hand washing Grandmother’s gold-rimmed china, I won’t have that energy for yoga, working out, walking Sammy and writing.
Enter the relatives.
And so, my nephews with their wives and daughters arrived one Friday afternoon to view the pieces they too had grown up with. It was exciting for them to see the artwork they associated with their grandparents and great grandparents. By the time they finished deciding what they could make room for in their lives, every family heirloom found a new home. There’s almost nothing left from my original home.
And how does that feel? Strangely, it’s like a purge, a shedding of excess baggage. Or maybe it’s like losing twenty pounds. I want to simplify my life. Anything that won’t go in the dishwasher gets passed to younger women in the family. It’s their turn now. I’m just glad they’re interested. Most of today’s young people wouldn’t be interested in their grandmother’s sterling silver place settings that require polishing. Nor would they find desirable the huge collection of Bridal Wreath china that must be washed by hand. In the spirit of my new, very modern house I’ll be saving my energy for my new way of life.