If furniture could talk, should it?

Family heirloom needs to move on

Memories are what you no longer want to remember. -- Joan Didion

On a beautiful spring day in April 1914, a young woman named Hallie stands before a dresser mirror and adjusts her wedding dress. She is the dresser's first owner. Hallie has bright blue eyes, blond hair and an infectious smile. "Fun" is the word many use to describe her, and the dresser's first home must have been a happy experience. It would not last.

The three-mirrored dresser was made of mahogany and finished with a dark cherry stain. It featured a large mirror in front with two side mirrors that could be adjusted so the viewer could see herself from those angles. There is a French name for it, but it was made in a furniture factory in Durham, N.C., so that seems a little presumptuous. There was nothing remarkable about it, but in the 100 years of its life, it has sure seen a lot. If you could hear its unvarnished testimony, would you really want to?

Three children came quickly to Hallie and her husband, and with them came increasing bouts of what today is called postpartum depression. Unfortunately for Hallie, in the 1920s it was considered temporary insanity, and treatment was isolation and bed rest. As Hallie would rally, the newest baby would bring her back down. If the dresser saw or felt her tears, I do not know. Finally, in 1928, she was committed to a facility despite her pleas to the contrary. She would die there later that year, and the dresser was put into storage.

In 1958 the dresser finally had a new owner and a chance for a new beginning. It was gifted to Hallie's new daughter-in-law named Betty. The dresser finally had the reflection of happy bride again, and then, it witnessed the arrival of three new children. They would often gather on Betty's bed where head rubs were distributed, the mirror of the dresser always a silent observer to that happy ritual. But the dresser witnessed the darker moments again too -- the arguments, the marital discord, ultimately the betrayals.

With Betty's husband's death in 1973, the dresser soon saw a new husband, and with it, a new happiness reflected in its mirrors. Betty's oldest daughter, as a surprise for her, had the dresser completely refinished and polished. If furniture can feel proud, that indeed would have been the day. But all to soon, the dresser witnessed pain again as Betty suffered through breast cancer. In 2009 only the husband saw himself in those mirrors.

My stepfather died last December, and soon afterward, my sister called and asked: "What do want to do with the dresser? Do you want it?" No, I said without hesitation. I am no longer that little boy in the mirror, waiting for a head rub, wrapped in the care of its reflection. Those are now dim images in my memory. The things I thought I could never forget slowly fade, rearranged perhaps in a more appealing chronology -- or perhaps a more accurate one. If the dresser could talk, would you ask it? I never would. Time to move on, and so too, the dresser.

NAN Our Town on 02/20/2020

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