Thursday, February 5, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage…Surviving a Power Outage

Fresh from the frigid reality of ice, snow and a week without electricity that swept across Kentucky & Southern Indiana, my thoughts have been catapulted back to my childhood growing up in Southwestern Michigan and some of the storm induced blackouts we had. In Michigan, where deep snow and intermittent ice storms are commonplace, utility companies are generally much more able to handle the occasional power outages in quick order. I can only remember a couple of instances when we experienced a lengthy time without electricity.

There was one time in my teen years that I'll never forget...the Storm of 1977. After an accumulation of 36 or 37 inches of snow, our power had been out for about 12 hours and reports for an extended outage came over the radio. The centerpiece of our family room was a large brick fireplace with an extended hearth and dad kept it blazing throughout the previous night, while he and my mom slept down there. I'm certain that I heard giggling emanating from the family room throughout the night, but my delicate teenage sensibilities convinced myself that they were simply telling jokes. Thinking of the alternative cause just made my skin crawl. Parents are NEVER supposed to even think about or actually take part in THAT.

Suspicious of the small kerosene heaters we each had in our rooms, the edict finally came down from my parents..."Move to the family room!" My brother, sister & I dragged our bedding down, piled it in various heaps and promptly sat in the middle of them. "Oh, NO, we need to be organized," my dad instructed. "We need to establish an eating area, a sleeping area and a sitting area." As I recall, the room was sort of largish...maybe 16' x 18", but "compartmentalizing" it seemed like a crazy idea to me.

Lots of eye rolling and a few waspish comments later, we three kids were "bunked" down on a hide-a-bed couch along one wall. A word about little brothers and sisters... When you're the oldest girl and in your teen years, little brothers are just totally gross. Mine was around 11 and it seemed that his entire existence revolved around potty humor, bathroom noises and anything that would cause my little sister and I to retch. My little sister was somewhere near 9 and continuously heard music that no one else could hear. She couldn't walk across the room without twisting, turning or performing a pirouette to the unheard symphony in her head. This phenomenon must run in our family, because I immediately recognized it in my daughter at that same age (Eek! She turns 13 today-Happy Birthday Amy!). As the baby, my little sister was also into garnering copious amounts of pity from my mother for whatever slights she felt she received from my brother and me. I'm given to understand that this is a “human” vocation of all "babies of the family."

So whilst we sat there, desperately trying to avoid contact with one another, my parents were running sorties to and from various parts of the house retrieving antique iron pots, skillets, kitchen items, lighting fixtures, linens, clothing, etc....anything they deemed useful for our "camp." Another side note...we never went “real” camping when I was a kid...we couldn't afford it...we had antiques!

We kids weren't much help...I was sent to find the antique toaster...Our regular 4-slicer was pretty old, so I unplugged it and took it to them. The look that passed between my parents was if to say, "We've raised an idiot!"

"No, honey, that needs electricity. You need to get the four sided square wire rack from the shelf in the kitchen." I replied "OH! I understand." I actually didn't, but I thought I should be able to pick it out of a lineup. I headed back to the kitchen to look. After an extended period of time, punctuated with several parental shouts of loving concern, "Are you lost?" "Can't you find it?" "Do you need me to draw you a picture?” I returned with the offensive looking little thing only to discover a room virtually transformed into something that looked like a medieval torture chamber.

Every iron cooking utensil and device we owned was stacked on the hearth. Kerosene railroad lamps were put into use and hanging all over from the beamed ceiling. However, since most of the lenses were colored red & green, they cast a sickly glow over all the rooms’ occupants. There, in the middle of the hide-a-bed, were my siblings both wearing bear skin caps and sitting under a couple of horsehair lap robes, while churlishly engaged in a loud game of "Stop touching me!" I'm sure the expression on my face plainly told my mom, "Please, I beseech you, please don't make me get in there with them." I was allowed to take a spot on the other couch in the room, which naturally started a rousing round of "It's Not Fair!"

Filled with joy in my newfound position of "uniqueness," (something rarely found in 3 kid families) I snuggled into my solitary couch, at which point, my sister attempted to come over to "share" with me. She starts across the room, does a pirouette, trips over the stack of McGuffy's Readers and Bumper Books that Mom thought would be quaint entertainment, lands on my brother, who emits a long and loud gaseous explosion, which dissolves him into gales of laughter. He rolls off the bed into the back of my dad who falls headfirst toward the fireplace, only to be saved by tripping over my mom, who's desperately trying to adjust the placement of the andirons into a more tasteful display. Suffice it to say, “much chaos ensued.”

To shorten a very long story, I'll just give you a brief list of knowledge gained during our camping experiment...

1. Meat of any type tastes great cooked over an open fire in a well seasoned & well-used iron skillet.

2. Iron skillets used over an open fire need more than one modern potholder.

3. Meat cooked in an iron skillet over an open stove don't taste quite as good with fireplace ashes and horse hair lap robe fuzzys on them.

4. Adding brown sugar to a corn bread mix and cooked over an open fire is a "No-No." The resulting gaseous cloud formed from burned brown sugar may require assistance of the Haz-Mat variety.

5. Toast made in that funky little wire toast rack over wood coals is essentially inedible. Wood smoke flavored toast will never gain popularity and no amount of oleo will mask it.

6. Making raisin-bread toast over an open fire on self-same toaster will greatly reduce its intrinsic value as an antique.

7. Wearing a bear skin cap to bed is the surest way of ascertaining if one has "pet hair" allergies.

8. Parents don't "giggle" at night when stared down by 3 pairs of reproachful adolescent eyes.

9. Despite the best intentions, lessons about the various types, origin, styles and value of antiques given to a teenager who has been separated from a TV for a week do not take root. Save your breath. Additionally, telling us what it was like "in the old days" or "when I was a kid" do not make the story any more endearing.

10. Little brothers are icky, it's just in their blood. You can't "train" them. Just give them space and ignore them. If allowed to live, they do grow up into semi-normal human beings.

11. The "Baby" of a 3 Kid Family will always gravitate toward the one held in highest esteem by the parents and immediately perform an "act" of victimization that will remove their sibling from "favored kid" status. They're stirrers and instigators. However, pressure placed on their little temples will render them quiet for an extended period of time. (JK)

12. The most loving family of 5 can practically turn homicidal when cloistered together in a room without electricity for a week.

So, a week ago, on Tuesday night, upon the immediate & complete cessation of all light and power, and filled with visions of my past experiences, I did what any self-preserving parent would do...We went to “camp” my Mom's house, 40 miles away where she had electricity! Besides, I don't own one of those little square wire rack toasters...How would we eat?

Here's hoping all of you and those you love are warm and safe!
So Dear 2 My Heart

P.S. If anyone who reads this knows anyone who is a utility lineman who has gone on one of the rescue missions, such as the one we have had here, please pass my sincerest thanks and heartfelt applause on to them. We’ve seen trucks from North & South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama & Georgia here in our small town, all helping with the repair of lines to hundreds of thousands (700,000 in KY and 200,000 in southern Indiana) of homes/businesses. The work in the elements has got to suck, the hurriedly thrown together “rest stations” are not sufficient, they rarely receive food “spiffs” and the thanks are few.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage...The "Dearly Departed"

Over the course of a young lifetime, I was witness to an amazing array of furniture and glassware, as well as the odd, the unusual and the sublime. While both Mom and Dad bought things, it was Mom who got the "bizarre" items which included things that would raise most people's eyebrows...a taxidermied chicken (it did look cute nesting in a basket in her kitchen), a wall mounted pig castrator (she made it into a fun & kitschy flower planter), several life -sized "Johnny Walker Red" (Scotch Whiskey) plywood dummy boards ( in their red tailcoats & top hats, they DID work well in an outdoor Christmas display) and then there was the Victorian Flower Sellers Basket...

Mom came home one day all excited...she'd been to a "fabulous" sale at a local antiques mart and had made an incredible buy!

She had been nosing around the cob-webby & dusty booth (her favorite kind) of a new seller at Red Lion Antiques Mart. She found loads of ancient silk & velvet flowers, panels of ruched satin, yards of black bombazine material and bolts of wide ribbon (today these items would be called "shabby chic"...Mom always was ahead of her time). Underneath a bunch of medieval looking tools, she found a rather large, long, lidded wicker basket. Espying her rapidly growing pile of flowers and ribbons, the smooth-talking booth owner explained that he'd purchased all of the items in Chicago from the estate of a former British subject. He "believed" the basket to be that of a Flower Seller from Victorian London. It had been attached to the back of a horse drawn wagon to sell flowers on the street in the late 1800's. The wicker would allow air to circulate around the flowers and the lid prevented damage from the sun and wind. The strange tools were used in the production of the silk and velvet flowers. The price, while a little steep, was acceptable and she ended up buying it all and packed it into our well-used station wagon and carted it home. She just couldn't believe her luck in stumbling upon such wonderful items from the Victorian era, as well as all of the tools of the florist trade.

At an antique show a couple of weeks later, Mom bumped into a friend who was also a dealer in the area. They were discussing the latest gossip when Mom spotted the gentleman from whom she purchased the basket and related items. She asked her friend if he'd ever met the seller before. He admitted that, "No, I've not been introduced but I know OF him." He said, "You know that I'll purchase almost anything if it'll turn a profit, but that guy really goes beyond the limits of good taste. Just a couple of weeks ago, the owner of the Red Lion told me this guy had the entire contents of an old funeral and funeral arrangements, embalmers tools, shrouds and even a REPOSSESSED wicker CASKET in his booth. He fed some poor ignorant woman a story that it all came from an old florist shop in England and she bought every word and every danged item! Some people will buy anything if the story is good enough!"

Filled with righteous indignation and at the same time, thoroughly sick in the pit of her stomach, Mom asked, "What do you mean, REPOSSESSED?" Her friend admitted that he'd been to look at the lot of items to purchase himself (just a couple of towns over...NOT Chicago), but decided it was just too "morbid" for even him. The seller told him that his grandfather had been an undertaker and had performed a funeral, but when it came time to settle the bill, the family couldn't pay, so the dearly departed had been transferred to and buried in a less costly pine box. For some reason, he had never been able to re-sell the "slightly used" casket. Mom swears she doesn't remember much else about the conversation... I'm still not sure if this was due to the fact that she'd been "taken" or due to the true origination of her purchase.

This was long before collecting "Funary" came into vogue. Today, there are a vast number of collectors who seek out highly priced jet, onyx, celluloid or Bakelite Mourning Jewelry. The most elegant and well designed pieces contained garnets or amethysts which were popularized by Queen Victoria during her period of mourning. A lesser known classification, "Memento Mori," are pieces which are comprised of a deceased person’s woven hair and made into bracelets and watch fobs as well as gold filled lockets or watch-like cases with the hair preserved behind tiny glass inserts. Hair was even woven into art-like compositions of flowers, birds or sheaves of wheat and placed in a frame to be hung on the wall in remembrance. Multi-generational pieces containing contributions of several family members have the most stories to tell and thus, command the highest prices...

Yep, Mom always was ahead of her time...

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage...A Name is a Name is a Name

When I was growing up, one thing I noticed about my family in comparison to others was that almost all of our furniture and accessories had "Names". NO, REALLY! Everyone else I knew had "the couch in the family room" or "the chair in the hallway." Not us! We had, among others, the "Windsor Chairs," the "Queen Anne Tall Boy" and the "Kerr Sterling Vanity Set." If it wasn't named after someone, then it was referred to based on its construction..."The Walnut Pie Safe," the "Cherry Thread Chest," or the "Oak Dry Sink."

Occasionally, we also had (I hope I don't offend) a "Dammed (Something)," which was a moniker reserved for pieces that quickly fell out of favor...A couple of these were pieces that were either damaged during acquisition or they were found to be "codgered," (more about that another day). Most frequently it was something that my parents disagreed on...Mom loved it...Dad hated was destined to be "dammed" until Mom sold it for a tidy profit, then it was "cannonized" (Saint Oakchest of Three Drawer) and foreverafter fondly remembered by its correct furniture name.

It really wasn't such a big deal sharing the same living space with furniture whose names sound far more "pedigreed" than your own, but you must realize how awkward it was to tell your 12 or 13 year old friend, "please don't sit on the Duncan Phyfe (couch)." Talk about strange looks. I tried to explain style and design to a couple of them, only to receive that "I've gone somewhere else" vacant stare or some really dramatic eye-rolling. I finally just settled on, "It's reserved for our Minister or for Insurance Agents." One does what one must to survive the intricacies of friendship during early puberty.

It's funny now, but Mom would get mad at one of us kids for some indiscretion. In her fit of pique she would stammer through not only our dogs names, several horses & the cat before finally choking out the offenders name, but, I swear, there were a couple of occasions I even heard her throw in some furniture names as well...i.e., "Sissy! Sassy! Snoopy! Staffany! Tiffany! TERRI!!! Get over here!" I believe it's an obscure form of turrets syndrome and you get it from your kids, I am told.

We even had some pieces that had three couldn't simply be called a "Tiffany" lamp, it was the "Louis Comfort Tiffany" lamp. OH, Brother! I admit, all this always felt a little pretentious to me, but in reality, even back then, they were teaching me about their part-time business and full-time passion...collecting glorious pieces of history, elements of meticulous craftsmanship and creations of enduring value...ANTIQUES

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Life in the Land of Vintage...Lessons Learned When Very Young...

I'm in the season of my life when childbirth is almost certainly out of the question and I've been advised that mood swings, night sweats and temporary insanity figure heavily in my near future. I can't remember a time when items of antique and vintage origin weren't an integral part of my existence.

I was raised by two wonderfully creative parents who also happened to be lifelong antiques collectors, dealers and appraisers. I remember my young life as a succession of antiques shows, auctions and thrift shops, yard sales...and yes, even the occasional back alley dumpster.

While most other children were raised with gentle admonishments like, "Say Thank You" or "Please play nicely," the phrase I most remember hearing was, "Don't Touch Anything!"

My folks were particularly fond of antique cut & art glass. I remember learning, at the tender age of 4 or 5, to fold my arms or put my little hands in my pockets the minute we entered a shop full of those glittering fragile objects of their desire. I thought this solution was rather inventive. However, when one trips over an untied shoelace, it prohibits them from adequately catching their balance, thus propelling them forward into the very thing which they most wanted to avoid. In my case, a small display of 19th century French perfume bottles. After that episode, I believe I next saw my parents about 18 months later, once my term of indentured servitude was completed, the broken bottles having been paid for.

To this day, I'll chuckle when I find myself hunting through the glassware sections of antique shops or thrift stores and look down to see my arms firmly entwined across my chest. Ahh, the seeds sewn earliest have the deepest roots!

What a Wonderful Way to Make a Friend!

I just joined the wonderful world of Vintage Village this afternoon. A few minutes later, I received a nice email that notified me that VintagePal (fictitious name) just asked me to become a “friend.” Click here to accept… I clicked “accept” and it says, “VintagePal is now your friend.”

If that doesn’t beat all! I can just click a button and make anyone who asks (and hopefully those I invite) my friend! Life would be so much simpler that way! Do away with all the posturing and preening, time spent trying to “impress” (and the awkward possibility that we don’t). All of the things that so many use as a measuring stick today…gender, race, creed, color, religion, money, politics don’t even enter into it…Just click here…you have a friend! And, isn’t that the best of all genders? F-R-I-E-N-D Works for me!