Sunday, September 5, 2021

Shackles of our Past

 As, I mentioned before, down here we don't throw much away. I never really thought about this until several days ago when I decided I needed a new sofa. But what to do with the current one with its broken springs and uncomfortable cushions. Unfortunately, the piece is one of an exact matching pair of Empire style sofas my mother had. Oh, the conundrum! I can't throw it out, it is worth too much. It makes no sense to keep it, seeing that doing so requires storing it somewhere. 

And, the mahogany end tables that were in my grandmother's living room? Or the marble topped table that I remember sitting in my Aunt Kat's entry hall? And on and on it goes.  What shackles us to these pieces? Sure, we can give the provenance of each piece, who had it in each generation, and exactly where it sat in which room. It is as if the pieces are our history. They tell the story. There is also most likely is a book on the family history or the family Bible where every birth, marriage, and death is recorded for posterity. Every life time milestone of generations with the exception of a divorce - which rarely was acknowledged.

Is it the comfort of the worn wood, the old brass, the nicks and scratches in the patina? Perhaps it is just  simply the ease. Generation after generation just settles into life among these pieces. Oh, we may recover an upholstered piece or refinish the surface of that chest on chest. Of course this later practice became no longer de riguier when PBS's Antique's Roadshow proclaimed that any change (refinishing surface, replacing any nobs or hinges, or fixing a broken piece) would greatly reduce the value of the piece.

For us, those scratches and dents are the scars of pieces being used daily. Like the family Bible, they, too, tell a story. An example of this in our family had to do with my grandmother's prized sterling tea service. As a young boy my father took an ice pick to the cover of the sugar dish which resulted in three round holes in the sterling piece. A silversmith had done his best work to repair the wound, which still bore the scars of that brutal attack. My mother was always quick to point out the repaired places, and tell the story. (Thankfully, she did not go as far as to attribute the damage to gunshots that occurred as Sherman's troops stormed the old home place.)

But what difference does it make to us? A family member will rarely sell a piece therefore making the "devaluation" of an altered piece irrelevant. It is bad enough we will not part with them, insisting that our home decor be determined by pieces of our past. Add to that, if we follow this practice of preservation, we must live with pieces that are dull, missing handles, or have drawers that no longer work. Of course, there is always the frowned upon practice of buying new pieces (brand new reproductions) and adding them to the family cache. Some compare buying reproductions to wearing white after labor day. Except the former is an affront to the family, while the later is just a sign of bad taste.

Back to problem at hand - the Empire Style sofa. Do I spend good money fixing the 8 way hand tied coils and recovering it in a smart damask or part with it and face my mother's ire from the grave? The jury is still out on this one.

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