My great grandmother's furniture, my grandmother's furniture, my mother's furniture, and yes, even a little furniture of my own. It was not ever my ambition to inherit and have all the furniture in the houses of my childhood but nevertheless, I did inherit it and spend a great deal of time and effort caring for these beautiful pieces of the past. I don't think my mother and my grandmothers plotted against me by appointing me as their successor but I do think they all knew that I was the responsible one and their furniture would be safe with me. And their furniture was very, very important to them. The last thing my mother said to me in a coherent state was "I know I can count on you to take care of everything and everyone."
Such a legacy. It's full extent was revealed to me only several years ago. I had decided to have some hardwood flooring laid in the house and had to take the furniture out of several of the larger rooms. It all had to go. So I hauled it out to the very large front porch we have here at Bellemaison and stacked to the rafters, the second story rafters; pieces and pieces and pieces of wonderful, lovely well-appointed furniture piled high on the front porch.
And I don't want to neglect to say that I am grateful to come from women with such lovely taste and such lovely home-centric ambition. I am grateful. My eye has well-developed muscle that was built at the knee of my teachers--my mother and her mothers. But as I surveyed my luscious empty rooms stripped of all the mahogany, cherry and walnut, I realized I wanted to get organized once and for all and put the furniture back in an arrangement that made sense for me and how we live here in the hopes that it would be much easier for me to care for.
Obviously, some of it had to go. So I began to select and isolate pieces to give to my daughter, PDX Pup. I ended up with a well-filled corner of the front porch: end tables, chairs, music cabinets, lamps, just wonderful stuff that I had loved and They Before Me had loved that the Pup was now to love. And she would love these things! I was so tired that I did not realize until the next morning as I glanced back at the Pup Corner on my way out to my car what this assortment of well-crafted hardwood really meant; the Pup had come of age and was being called to claim her legacy: take care of everybody and everything. She had gotten her new job description and a mighty one it was at that as the Pup lived in a very small apartment at the time. I climbed into my car and rolled down the driveway realizing I was starting the cycle all over again, as many, many well-meaning mothers and parents have done since the beginning of time; passing on what they'd been given to the untired, unlined, fresh eyed future of the gene pool . Soon The Pup would have a mammoth conglomeration of household possessions spanning four generations, just like me, and soon she'd fret about keeping up with it all, just like me. And she was just a baby, barely old enough to live away from home. But come to think of it, I was younger than her when I got the same job description. How the times flies.
I worried about it all day at work. You want a different life for your children; you pick the good things about your own life and childhood and pass them on to your children. But then you find some really, really good new things that weren't in your childhood to give to your children so they will have a better childhood and a better life; you want only the very best of everything for your children and in the simplest of terms, you want your children to have a better life than you did. That's all. That's really all it is. They should have a better life than you. Once I came around to that simple ambition that lies in the heart of every mother, I knew what I had to do.
I went home and reorganized the front porch, grouping like-kind items. Chairs with chairs, lamps with lamps, tables with tables. The Pup Pile was no more. Then I placed an ad in the newspaper and began to clean and polish all this furniture for the last time. Then I sold every bit of it. All of the furniture that I had been in my family for so long. New people came to get this furniture and take it home to their families; they were thrilled to get this furniture and I knew it was going to a place where it would be loved, as it had been loved here.
I now had an empty home and it was time for me to make this home my very own, and write myself a brand new job description. So I began, filling my home with the things that had meaning for me. And I rewrote my will, too. Instructed my children to sell whatever furniture, art and possessions of mine they didn't want or need, with no guilt or responsibility; as I had loved and wanted each piece here and had a marvelous time with every bit of it, as they should with their own homes and their own possessions. It's only stuff and my ambition for my children is that they not be burdened by leftovers and remnants of my life that may serve to burden them instead of bless them. Now, then, and always it has been and it remains my intent to bless my children.
So I suppose you are a cold hearted person to sell you grandmother's dining room set. I still have my mother's dining room set, though . In storage. I'm not that brave nor that cold. I kept Mom's because of the memories of my Sunday job--pulling the dishes out of the hutch and and setting the table every Sunday after church. And on Saturdays, I dusted and polished the chairs. That maple furniture and I go back; we worked together for a long time. And after all is said and done, still I have the bedroom furniture of my great grandmother, my grandmother, my mother and my childhood. It turns out that I'm not that enlightened after all.
But the light and grace in my life is not the dressing tables of the women who defined a very large part of me but the husband who tends this furniture in storage and hauls a miscellaneous piece here or there from time to time without complaint; the light and grace in my life is my daughter who pats my hand and says, don't worry; when the time comes, you'll know exactly what to do with all of it.
And these are the things that I will take with me and carry in my heart to where I go next. What I will leave, hopefully, is my belief that we all care for each other and our own self as well but that the care and responsibility for family doesn't rest with one person. We don't pile up the obligation for a family's legacy and give it to one person to handle. We all handle our own stuff. And try, each and every day, to make things better for whoever is up next, keeping only the good things and finding really good new things to add to what we leave behind.
The 'Kan EWA