I have a confession, I am an addict………..to decorating programs. I hunger after programs on HGTV, Candice Olson, Steven and Chris. I find myself drawn to white, shiny, modern cubicles to display collectables. Each room makeover leaves me with wishes that I did not own an antique family sideboard and could just dispose of it and replace it with one of these crisp, sharp cornered display units. Somewhere in time I have begun to regard this family heirloom as a burden.
On a recent morning I sat on the sofa staring at the tall, tiger wood side-board and like a ghost I visualized my late uncle standing there in his pale blue polyester pants, white shoes and a long errant piece of hair coiled back over his skull to imitate a full head of hair. He playfully thumbed the brass handles of the cupboard. He was in his early nineties and even though we did not know it then would not celebrate many more birthdays. He told me he remembered playing with the handles on the cupboard as a little lad and being chastised by his plump, loving mother not to scratch the furniture. This set me off on another journey of remembrance. My short, round, floury smelling grandmother always had a kitchen fragrant with baking apple pies, large kettles of chili sauce or jam cooking down to just the right consistency. It was an old fashioned kitchen with the table in the centre of the room. No running water for wash up; just a cast iron pump on the end of the short counter to supply cold water direct from the cistern. Water had to be heated for washing and added to the low, wide sink. As grandmother was short so was everything in the kitchen to accommodate her use. This was the bane of existence for those of us who grew taller than grandma and had to wash up in her sink long after she had passed away.
The stately side-board is well over one hundred years old and in it’s original condition. The silver on the mirror has worn off in places but still reflects the people and space around it. The metal casters have protective pads added to save the hardwood floor it sits upon. Today it still holds the full set of fine china which my Grandmother cherished along with the tarnished silver candlesticks given to my parents by one of my Dad’s brothers and sister-in-law as a wedding gift. The drawers smell of years past, once lined by scented liners; wax from long burnt out candles stain the bottoms and old Irish Linen is still nestled in the cupboard. The side-board shines and smells with years of paste wax and more recently a spray polish.
This piece of furniture has witnessed numerous family events. It is from a time when babies were birthed at home, the dead were waked in the adjacent room and weddings were celebrated in the parlour. Family Christmas’, Thanksgiving and Easter dinners saw the table extended to its fullest and the table would groan with the burden of turkey, dressing, potatoes, every seasonable vegetable available for the occasion, cheese pickles, homemade bread and buns; all of which would be replaced with an array of pie, sweets and puddings. The side-board observed all this celebration from its place against the wall.
It’s origin is unknown to me. I don’t know if it was newly acquired by my grandparents or passed on from another family member. Perhaps it was purchased second hand. Money was not always plentiful on the farm and it would not be unreasonable to find it was secondhand. Antique dealers can place a value on it but as a family heirloom it is priceless. I have become aware that this is not a burden but rather an honour to be the custodian of this lovely piece of furniture.
The challenge now is to find a way to blend this side-board and a few other antiques into a brand new house. The side-board can display our antique pink bowls. By choosing a neutral shade of grey paint for the walls the side-board graces the great room; along with heavy dark brown leather furniture and throw rugs featuring reds, golds, orange, beige and grey blues. Pieces of furniture from different time periods co-exist in a harmony which can only be appreciated by those who know the history. This may not be what designers like Candice Olson would select but it suits my taste and gives a special comfort that my grandparents would approve.
There will be a day when the old side-board is passed on to my daughter. I will give her this background in hopes that she too will cherish her family history and take on the custodianship for another generation.