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Memory: Furniture


The morning after we did a thorough cleaning of our bedroom, emptying drawers and vacuuming behind and below heavy furniture and dusting a lot, I woke up thinking about my history with particular pieces.


We have nightstands on both sides of the bed. Mine is a fairly squat and sturdy do-it-yourselfer with the open space below a littered drawer filled with books. I can date Sue's stand back at least seventy years, though it may be older, originally a smoking stand set in my family's second living room, the one we all gathered in after supper—the first living room was the house entrance, open to the staircase up to our bedrooms and the hallway to the kitchen and centered on my mother's second-hand upright piano.


My father sat in the northeast corner of that room, opposite the television and next to the smoking stand. To his left, before our porch window, a cabinet housed our RCA Victor record player and our radio. Our phone sat on top of the smoking stand, Dad's pipe and tobacco canister were enclosed in the center space below a wide drawer, and phone books and magazines filled open slots on either side. He settled into his recliner after supper and on weekends for sports telecasts. I sat there during weekday lunch hours, watching one of my mother's soaps, "Love of Life," unless she was in the kitchen with my grandmother, and hoped to watch some of "The Betty White Show" rather than "Search for Tomorrow" before heading back to junior high. In late afternoon I also watched "American Bandstand," chapters of the "Flash Gordon" serial, and episodes of "Howdy Doody" with my sister and brother, before Dad came home. The smoking stand followed me to college and to apartments and houses ever afterward. Now it's on Sue's side of the bed, containing her books and folders and notepads.


Sue's dresser, across from the foot of our bed, was my mother's until her death. She may have acquired it before she married my father or when she and I lived with her parents or, after Dad returned after the war, when we moved into the house across the street. It was originally—at least in my memory—in the front room upstairs, first their bedroom, then only my mother's. My sister had the largest front bedroom, my brother and I shared the smallest one in the rear of the house. Later, when my parents remarried, the dresser was moved downstairs into what had been the family playroom. I moved into that front bedroom, where I got a clock radio for my bookcase bed and fell asleep to George "Hound Dog" Lorenz's rock-and-roll show on WKBW. My brother got the back bedroom to himself.


My mother's dresser, likely pretty old when she acquired it, had three long drawers, the bottom one the deepest, a round mirror attached to the back and towering over the top of it. Perhaps Sue and I were given it when we married and moved into our very old house in Alma, a little south of where I taught and where my ex-wife and our children lived in the middle of Michigan. It followed us to Colorado and later to Wisconsin. The drawers now screech when opened and closed, but they're roomy.


Over the years we've tried to divest ourselves of some of what we accumulate. We took half of our Michigan belongings to Colorado, and after four years in that apartment, decluttered again before returning to the Midwest and settling into this condo. Occasionally during our thirteen years here, we've decluttered again, as necessity demands. Whenever we move again, it will be to someplace smaller—we've visited older family members in fiercely institutional retirement homes and noticed how prominent Spartan settings and bare necessities are and expect our circumstances to eventually be similar in coming years.


We'll not likely pass on much furniture to our far-flung children in California and Florida and those nearer-by in Wisconsin—our descendants have also been accumulating for a while now. We may be around long enough for grandchildren to use something as they move into adulthood. Perhaps an antique store might take the dresser or the Salvation Army or Goodwill accept some things. The smoking stand might still be of use in our retirement retreat.


I'm not sure our children or grandchildren will conjure similar memories about the furniture we will leave behind. Maybe some of the bookcases would be useful (and some books readable), but that beat-up dresser and smoking stand are unlikely to prompt any fond associations with family history for them the way they have with me. You aren't always aware of everything decluttering opens up for you, how much of the past you have to confront—and how much relinquish.


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