Spring has arrived, although slowly and taking two steps backward for each one forward. Yesterday I began my yearly ritual of pulling my old wicker out and placing it on the front porch. I hung the wind chimes, and as I sit here writing this morning, their sweet music floats on the cool spring air. My old Victorian house has two porches — one wrap-around front porch which is home to my old wicker and my houseplants during the summer, and my enclosed back porch which houses my collection of bird decor, a wrought iron table and chairs, and a wicker set I picked up from a consignment shop. My newest addition to the back porch this year is a beautiful wreath of flowers and miniature birdhouses — it is a beloved hand-me-down from a friend.
Actually, my house itself is a hand-me-down of sorts. Before we bought it over forty years ago, it belonged to my husband’s great-uncle. The moment I stepped inside I was in love with its many-windowed rooms, polished pocket doors, beautiful front stairway and the thought of those whose lives had been lived out within these walls. From the beginning, I furnished the house with bits and pieces from family members — old bedroom sets, dining room furniture passed down from a great-grandfather; even my babies slept in the crib their father and aunt had slept in years before them.
Through the many years since, I have tended to search at garage sales and estate sales for items to fill my home. While there is very little monetary value to the pieces I have gathered through the years, they are treasures to me. The old family pieces — my grandfather’s desk, my grandmother’s hope chest, my mother’s dressing table — fill my heart each time I see them. My mother-in-law’s cut-glass bowls sit proudly in my dining room in different seasons. There are family stories behind so many of my possessions — stories I have tried to pass down to my children and grandchildren. There are memories of my own purchases as I poked through musty old antique stores — the lovely soup bowls which matched my mother’s good dishes, the delicate blue & white teapot and tiny teacups that called out to me one day. As I walked through an estate sale recently, I held a softly knit shawl in my arms and ran my fingers over the texture, wondering who had carefully knit it and whose shoulders had been warmed each evening in its softness.
There are those who love the sleek and modern, but my heart has always yearned for the imperfect mystery of the well-used. We were given an old family Victrola several years ago, and as I dusted it one day, I noticed the name “Linda” scratched unobtrusively on its surface; Linda is one of my husband’s cousins, and today the old Victrola has made its way to her home — back to the one who loved it so much she inscribed her name upon it. As I dust the furniture, wash the linens, arrange flowers in the lovely old vases, and hand wash delicate china, I wonder how many hands have cared for these pieces, and how much laughter and tears they have witnessed through their long lives. I feel a bond with those who came before me and called these hand-me-downs their own.
For now, all of these old possessions — my cozy old house, my furniture which bears the marks of family life, my old books, my teddy bear collection, my quilts and china and wicker — add warmth and depth to my life. My own memories, and my curiosities about those who loved these items before me are part of the fabric of my everyday existence. My hope is that some of my most precious items will be passed on to family members and friends who will cherish them. If not, though, they will be placed on estate sale tables and picked up gently by those who will treasure them for their beauty and the unknown stories that they carry with them. In the meantime, this hand-me-down old house has been my shelter and comfort for the better part of my life, and I am so grateful.