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11 January, 2013

A SENTIMENTALIST'S DILEMMA OF WHAT TO DO WITH A NEGLECTED ANTIQUE CHEST OF DRAWERS



Those who read my posts on this site know that I am a self-admitted oddball.  Among other things, I enjoy antiques.  Nothing strange in that if it were not for the fact that I grow attached to all old things, especially items of certain family significance.  They continue to talk to me of times past and of history that predates me.  They are like old friends and I cannot justify life without them.

Thirty or 40 years ago, I was relatively indifferent to family heirlooms that had come into my possession and I carelessly, or thoughtlessly,  let some of them slip away.  Like an oil painting by my grandmother Louise Wright, circa 1895.  I inadvertently put a chair leg through the canvas of my grandmother's sole venture into the world of art and as a result threw it in the trash.  Then there was the 100-year-old butter churn that I left out on a patio deck in winter and it eventually cracked and fell apart because of frost and a build up of ice that had accumulated in the bottom.  I also once gave away a priceless smoked glass fish ornament passed down from a great aunt, that I later discovered was worth a small fortune on the antique auction floor.  Pressure from a friend induced me to sell him an ice cream parlor table and two chairs from my Aunt Della Dunlop's bake shop store in Oil Springs (1920-1945).   I shouldn't dwell on such things, but I do.

Oct -13-1908 started engine
I eventually learned a very costly lesson the hard way. I matured over the years with a resultant deep appreciation for personal affects of my ancestors.

I have selectively given some pieces to my daughters and grandchildren but I could still literally furnish another house with antique furniture that I have stored in my garage -- tables, chairs, dressers, chiffoniers, love seats, cabinets.  For years I have been threatening to stage a garage sale that would be the granddaddy of them all, but I keep suppressing the notion.

I have a mid-Victorian period chest of drawers (circa 1850?) that has increasingly weighed heavily on me for more reasons than just one.  I braved the elements late last night (when I should have been in bed) to check on the solid walnut piece that was once used by my grandfather Wesley Wright, and subsequently my father Ken in respective bedrooms at our family homestead in Dresden, ON.  As I removed the blanket from the chest of drawers, I was shocked to see signs of deterioration from exposure to the extremes of  summer and winter temperatures over a 10-year period.  I hated myself for the neglect and vowed to take restorative measures before too much more time passes.  Surely I can squeeze it back into my house somewhere, somehow.

Ebby Wright, Dresden, Ont. 1909 Jan. 22
I carefully removed a couple of the drawers where I remembered my grandfather and a step-uncle had made notations in pencil.  There they were, as if written only yesterday:  "Oct.--13--1908 started engine" (a reference by my grandfather to an electric pump engine that he had installed in a rock water well at the back of our property); "Ebby Wright, Dresden, Ontario, 1909" (perhaps Ebby shared the chest of drawers with his dad at one point); "Oct. 25 1900 Ebler Albert Baxter" (I have no idea who Albert Baxter was, but I had to smile at the possibility that I inherited slight dyslexia from my grandfather.  Note: "Abler...", an obvious transposition of letters in attempting to write the name "Albert".  I frequently find myself doing that very same thing, in fact there might well be some letter transposition in this post.)
Oct. 25, 1909 (Abler) Albert Baxter 
One of the drawers has a strange form of hieroglyphics scratched into the side with possibly a nail.  Numbers and percent signs are slightly visible with something resembling the date 1888.

As I put the drawers back in place I remembered the time 12 years ago when, in a moment of weakness, I actually decided to get rid of the chest that had survived the previous 150-plus years.  After my move to the Saugeen Shores area, I found it necessary to put a number of items in a rental storage unit until I was able to get settled, including the chest-high piece of furniture that weighed at least 200 pounds and was taking up a lot of storage space.  With great difficulty, I was able to hoist it into a dumpster that I found on the premises and hastily took my leave, with empty trailer in tow.
Dove tail joints typical of Victorian
 era furniture made in Ontario.

The five-minute drive home was torturous.  I struggled with the wisdom of my spur-of-the-moment, impulsive decision.  Once in my driveway, I made a U-turn and headed back to the storage complex where I  promptly pulled the abandoned chest of drawers out of the dumpster, minus the back which had come loose with the rough treatment I had given it.  With a few nails and some lovingly-applied furniture polish, the chest of drawers once again gained a place of prominence in my new home.

A down-sizing move to Southampton a few years later once again necessitated my storing the chest of drawers in my garage "until I could find room for it in the house".  That was almost 10 years ago and I still have not found sufficient room.  But that's all going to change, trust me.  I simply cannot neglect that piece of me any longer...All I have to do is decide what I have to get rid of in order to make room for it in the house.

Therein lies another problem.  I'll let you know how I make out.  A garage sale this Spring is sounding better all the time...Or perhaps an addition to the house?

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