Monday, March 26, 2012

Out with the Old and in with the New . . . or Vice Versa by Diane Kelly

My husband and I are both the youngest children in our families, which means we’ve received lots of hand-me-downs over the years. To some, secondhand items might seem second rate. But I like things with a sense of history and tradition to them, especially when they’re FREE. Can’t beat that price with a stick! I’ve also been known to pick up an occasional item from a garage sale or even from a curb. My daughter and I landed a busty secondhand mannequin that way. She was wearing only a red thong when we found her (I am NOT making that up!). She’s come in handy for several gags.

Over the years, we’ve received many useful and interesting hand-me-downs. When my uncle married and moved in with his new wife, he gave us an oversized desk the size of an aircraft carrier. The desk has been a wonderful addition, allowing us to spread out projects, the kids’ homework, and financial records come tax time. From my husband’s grandmother, we received a partial set of china. Some of the pieces are chipped and slightly discolored, but I nonetheless find them intriguing since the word “Siam,” the former name of Thailand, is stamped on the bottom. The china thus serves as a tangible witness to history. We also have an old steamer trunk bearing a faded sticker directing the baggage handlers to forward the trunk to Providence, Rhode Island. The trunk and sticker also give a sense of history, of days gone by when people traveled by train with their belongings packed in huge, heavy trunks. We also have several braided rugs made by hand by my husband’s grandmothers, and a rocking chair and grandfather clock made, quite appropriately, by his grandfather.

My in-laws are in the process of moving into a retirement community and are down-sizing their furniture collection. As a result, the hubby and I have been the fortunate recipients of some of their larger pieces, including a beautiful curio cabinet that finishes out our dining room perfectly and an oversized computer armoire that my husband graciously agreed I could claim for myself. The armoire has a multitude of shelves, drawers, and even an overhead light. Perhaps the best feature, though, are the folding doors, which can be closed to conceal my ever-present creative mess.

The armoire has a built-in bulletin board. While my in-laws cleaned off most of the board, they left one panoramic photo tacked there. The photo is of a vineyard called “Hillebrand Estates,” which my in-laws visited on a trip to Niagara on the Lake back in 2000. (I know this from the notes my mother-in-law always writes on the back of photos. She’s a former school teacher and extremely organized. ) Although the piece is now mine to do with what I’d like, I’ve decided to keep the photo in place. Why? Because I like the sense of history the photo suggests, of how the piece of furniture links the lives of my in-laws with those of me and my husband and children and provides a sense of permanence and continuity.

The heroine of my Death and Taxes series, Treasury Agent Tara Holloway, is also the youngest child in her family and has decorated her town house with hand-me-downs and secondhand items purchased at estate and garage sales. (Gee, where did that come from?) In a scene in the first book (DEATH, TAXES, AND A FRENCH MANICURE) she describes her bedroom back home at her parents’ house:

A multi-colored braided rug covered the original wood floor, left un-refinished at my request. The scratches, gouges, and scuffs implied a fantastic history had taken place right there in my bedroom. In high school, I used to sit on the floor and examine the scars in the wood, wondering how they’d gotten there, dreaming up romantic stories of a winsome country girl swept up into the arms of a rugged, handsome cowboy, the passionate lovers oblivious to the scratches his spurs made on the wood floor as he carried the young woman to bed for a night of raw passion.

How do you feel about secondhand items?  Do you like old stuff or do you prefer new?  Do you ever find yourself wondering about the former owners?  Do any of your secondhand pieces tell stories?  We'd love to hear your thoughts!


Kima said...

My first apartment was furnished entirely with hand-me-downs, garage sale finds and auction bargains. It wasn't until I bought my first house that I purchased my very first piece of brand new furniture - a dining room table and chairs. I still furnish quite a bit of our home with auction finds and hand-me-downs, but now I call them family heirlooms!

Brandy said...

We've had hand-me-downs and I like the sense of history most have, though I can do without the old plastic pieces from my MIL! *g*

Diane Kelly said...

"Heirlooms" does have a nice sound to it, Kima. : )

Brandy, ugh to the plastic! That's the type of thing that gives "secondhand" a bad name!

Brandy said...

Well, MIL doesn't really realize that those items that she gives us that we can't use or DON'T WANT are then donated so that someone somewhere can get some use out of them. *g*