Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chippendale Memories

I am one of those people with a strong visual memory. In my design practice this is an excellent resource. Sometimes in my personal life it can be a surprising source for an emotional ouch .

This week three things happened to trigger a slide show of memories. One was a quick search for estimating yardage requirements for a family's heritage  Chippendale camel back sofa.  The second  a chat with my mother, the third was emails from a  friend about the importance of  family treasures at  Thanksgiving gatherings.

Somewhere , in the home of one of my siblings,  there is an under bed storage box in which were placed my Mothers never organized, lifetime collection of family photographs. The photos go back as far as faded sepia  images of a great grandmother and as far forward as current within the past year or so.  They were transfered to this storage box from the bottom drawer of her dresser where they resided for decades. Journeys to see my mother over the decades have included sitting on the floor, rummaging through the pictures, retelling of family history . We always laughed a lot, cryed a bit  but mostly we  relived the joys depicted. When her health made it unsafe for her to stay home her dresser was loaded into  a U-Haul while Mom and the photos were delivered to  an Assisted Livng Residence. Mom and her lifetime of  photos were separated when she went from assisted  living to hospital to nursing home. Life in a hospital bed does not accommodate possessions.

In that storage box are a series of family photos on my mothers beloved Chippendale camel back sofa. When we would have our photo rummages Mama would pick out a photo and exclaim " Look girls the sofa has on her green silk!", the same as she exclaimed over her children, our various Christmas ensembles or various canine family members . To my mother, her Chippendale sofa was a comfort in a life chock full of terrible losses. But not the sofa.  It traveled through so much of her journey she could never have thought of being without its comfort.

When I called my mother this week she actually picked up on the first ring. This is rare!  Often I must call the nurses station and ask them to send someone to put the phone where she can reach. I am always polite in these requests as I am keenly aware my mothers day to day life is in the hands of the staff on this unit, in this nursing home, in a city far from here. But I want to scream about how damn hard can it be to remember  the  darling little lady  in bed number two has all her wits in a failed body so the voices of children and grandchildren are amongst her few remaining comforts so how do they justify the deprivation??

But, as I said, this time she answered on the first ring. And promptly asked this question,
" Fishy, where is my French coffee table? Do you have it?"
" Yes Ma'am. I have it here at the Pond."
"Where is it?"
" It's in the sitting area of my suite"
" Do you love it?"
" Yes Mama, I love all your treasures ."

There was a long pause and then she said,
" I miss my sofa"
Ouch. I tried to not hear what I heard in my mothers voice but it was in there.
" Fishy, you know sometimes I lay here and try to picture my things but I just don't know where they all are."
" Goodness Mom, I can tell you they are all where we can enjoy them. I think I even wrote in one of my blog posts about  your things being in the homes of everyone I love so I feel a bit of coming home when I visit them. That I can feel your presence there with us at the gatherings."

There was a pause before Mama said,
" Do you remember a picture of your brother playing a guitar on the sofa?"
" I love that picture!"
" It was so funny to hear that sweet clear little boys voice singing 'The House of the Rising Sun"

For a long time I did not comment.  Couldn't comment. Could barely control my breathing. There was a kaleidoscope of images crashing around in my head of all the photos on the Chippendale sofa. Pretty little girls in mother designed and made Christmas outfits sitting on the sofa reading The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. Teen girls dressed in finery with stiff hair and Jeanie makeup before  nervous dates  arrived with corsages.  One of our youngest siblings dolled up in a formal at age 5. A priceless image of both our parents on the sofa with the first born grandson. Grandparents at 39 and 42.  A family still whole.  Somewhere tucked away I have a picture of just my mother on her sofa after the great marriage fracture which broke all our hearts. In that picture she looks too fragile to withstand lifes hardships but somehow the comfort of the sofa is captured in the image as well. 

" Fishy, it is bothering me."
" What is Mama?"
"I cannot get an image of where my things are. All my children learned to read in the wing chair and since that went to your sisters it's been recovered so I don't even know how it looks. I can't picture it in it's place or how it's dressed".

Well, I sure wasn't going to tell her it was looking so tacky she would take a switch to anyone commiting such a crime against her precious wing chair. Nor was I going to mention her sofa remains in storage. Not proudly part of anyones home, not anyones comfort.  No longer the backdrop for all our family gatherings.

After a pause I said,
"Mama, what if I  take photos this Thanksgiving of all your things here at the Pond ?
Mermaid is coming home so while the turkey is roasting we'll be photographers.
I'll ask Blowfish to let me use his D80,  it takes the most beautiful pictures."

I could hear the smile in her response.

After our call I didn't move for the longest time. I thought about my  friend who wanted to use items from parents lost for the comfort of those facing a first holiday without them.  A lovely tribute to the parents, a lovely present for the guests, a comfort to the hosts and tabletop  incentives to share family stories along with the feast.
My  friend had looked for a unifying thread or theme for her table. I hope I helped.  At no point in time did I really have any association with her Thanksgiving plans and my own. Until this visit with my mother. Now I am eager to plan an entire holiday  around  my mothers treasures. As a tribute, and a thank you, to a woman who spends her days in a hospital bed  missing her sofa.


Aunty Belle said...

Ah....dear memories.

Granny made me swear I would keep and use and pass on to a faithful body the wee cane rocker that belonged to an ole single lady Granny knew as a chile'. I has done that--so far. That ole lady tole Granny that the chair wuz all she had left of her own family after 90 years.

Know jes' how ya feel, Fishy. Somewhar', lost to some dusty cobwebby attic, is mah chile'hood pineapple post mahogany twin beds that din't come to my keepin'. I reckon thar's jes so many heirlooms that can be set out in one place.

Loved the stories of yore family memories on the sofa.

moi said...

Your mother's "I miss my sofa," wrenched out a little piece of my heart. I love your idea to take those photos and I hope they bring her comfort and happiness.

My mother was the exact same way. Even though she's been dead 10 years, the house she shared with my step father (still alive) is still pretty much as she left it, chock-a-block full of her many treasures and therefore so resolutely "her," that it's extremely difficult for me to visit.

fishy said...

you make a good point. I do have things in storage within my own home which are family treasures.
They are not out because, as you so rightly stated, there is only so much we can display in one home.

I'm still bleeding.
Kudos to you for the visits you do make. I am not sure I would have the grit.
It is so endearing you can understand my mothers keen since of displacement. Bless your smart, kind heart.

Jenny said...


As we age and we lose our parents (either in death or failing health) we also lose traditions, and it's a struggle to create new ones - but that's what we must do; weave in the past, add things from the present and hopefully in the process create new memories for the future.

I'm glad you found your inspriration for Thanksgiving this year, you've certainly been mine.


Pam said...

"A family still whole" .... you have no idea how poignant that line is to me. *sniffle* Yes, find a way to show your mom her things ... and I would do up a little photo book so she can flip through it anytime she wants. And you can pose the relatives on the various furniture pieces. Get your brother to recreate the guitar scene. Priceless.

sparringK9 said...

what a beautiful post - i have never really thought about the unifying thread of furniture to a family story but in examining my own after this post it really is true. i have one of my moms chairs - which Koby ate. SO that heirloom had a trial by fire - just the kind my mom the dog lover would taken in stride. V had it recovered in a horrible fabric so the dogs got to have it once again. but i still think of Mama whenever i see it. Lovely post...would like to see the thanksgiving photos.

I did that one year -put together a portfolio of 10 vintage family photos....

fishy said...

thank you friend.

One of my friends who reads this blog but does not comment called me up to say, " Damnit Fishy, you should put warning labels on a post like this. She struggles every holiday with the family divide and like most of us yearns for a " family still whole".

Mama does have a folder of pics, what is growing in the garden or sunsets on the lake which I update regularly. Haven't thought about calling my bro to ask if he still has a guitar. Great suggestions.

My Mama is a dog lover too but trust me she would not tolerate any dog using her Chippendale as a chew toy.

V chose fabric for your heirloom chair? Wow! I would never trust Blowfish with that task, it could be life threatening.

No doubt your vintage portfolio for gifts are beloved treasures of the recipients!

sparringK9 said...

grrrrrrrrrrrrherhahahHa, fishy