Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Table Tales

My mother is the Queen of garage sales, thrift shops and flea markets. If there's something obscure that I'm looking for, all I have to do is have Mom add it to her "list" and I know sooner or later, it will show up in the famous "goodie boxes" she sends us from the east coast.

Sometimes the goodies might be of questionable value, but we have received antique crocks, old tools and jewelry in those boxes. Just like in the movie Forrest Gump, "you know what you're gonna get".

My mother enjoys the hunt more than anything and being of the generation that experienced the great depression, she likes to get a bargain too.

One of the things she found for me has turned out to be a invaluable resource for historical research. It's a reprint of the 1897 Sears Roebuck Catalogue.

The introduction proudly boasts that should all the records of the late eighteenth century be lost, this book could serve as a historical description for everyday life in that time period. I find myself referring to it often when I'm writing.

Last week when I was looking for some examples of a sideboard for my work-in-progress, I realized something amazing. In the furniture listings, there were several tables that made me laugh. Not because they're goofy or overly elegant in that Victorian style that was so over the top. These were plain, ordinary and very serviceable tables for the kitchen or dining room.

What made me laugh was the realization that I have these tables in my house.

I actually have two baking tables, one in the entry way of my house and one in the upstairs of our barn. We're waiting for our "someday" house to find a place for that one.

My dining room set has been refinished once and we're considering having it done again. The finish is getting a bit sticky, and the chairs have been re glued several times. The table costs $3.40 when it was purchased new.

The really great thing is that my mother bought it at an auction in the sixties for $1.00 and that included six chairs. I know some people who visit us and see all our old stuff wonder why we don't buy some shiny new things. But for me , it's the stories that were told around these tables that make using them everyday so special. I imagine a family in the 1800's on the first day this dining room table was brought home, how proudly the mother put her dinner on it and how rich that family must have felt to have such a treasure.

The baking table might have had a top with a flour sifter, spice jars and other special features. I wonder how many holiday pies and loaves of warm homemade bread sat on the surface? How many family members walked through the door at the end of the day to smell a treat just from the oven?

When I write, I often thumb through that catalog, enjoying all the everyday things people dreamt of owning. It truly was a "wish book" and now it serves to make my imaginary worlds more real to the folks who read my books.
In my book, Promise Me, I have my couple often sitting at a table to eat or talk. The first time Sam and Amanda meet, it's in the Parmeter House kitchen late at night.

She felt as if she had somehow intruded, that the light banter had dissolved into something else. She didn't know what to say, and remained silent while the shadows in the corners of the kitchen grew deeper. What was it about confidences exchanged at midnight? Perhaps it was sometimes easier to confess to a stranger than to talk with a friend.

"I recently lost my husband. He was the only family I had left. . ." Her voice trailed off, and she closed her eyes to keep the tears from forming as she took another sip of the drink.

When she opened her eyes he was staring at her. "How do you feel about that, Amanda -- about being so alone?"

His easy use of her first name was too personal, but she wasn't offended. It seemed natural, as if this conversation had taken place many times before. Perhaps it was the anonymity of talking to someone she didn't know, but for some reason she felt comfortable enough to tell him the truth.

"It's frightening. I'm terrified the sadness will simply overwhelm me someday, and that I'll be consumed by it. And if I disappear, who's going to miss me? I don't think anyone will mourn my passing or even remember me." She swallowed a sob, as a tear trickled down her cheek. What was she doing? This man didn't care how empty and bereft she felt. First, she had flirted outrageously with him, and now she was going to humiliate herself by dissolving into tears in his presence.

She dropped her head, waiting for him to stand up and leave. She didn't share her deepest feelings with people she knew, much less complete strangers. What had he done to make her feel so vulnerable? Listened? Was she that desperate for someone to talk to?

He moved his pie around on the china plate before dropping his fork. When he made no move to rise and walk out of the room, she swallowed and tried to make her voice sound teasing again.

"What are your intentions regarding that pie?" She wiped away a tear and lifted her face to give him a coy look.

He pushed the plate toward her. "Can I interest you in some?"

She nodded, leaning forward to pick up his fork. It was an intimate thing to do, to use his utensil. It simply wasn't proper. It would be like pressing her lips to his in a kiss. That thought made her even bolder. She scooped up a forkful of cherries and grinned.

Do you have an heirloom or antique in your home that comes with a special story?
Deborah Schneider is the 2009 RWA Librarian of the Year
Promise Me is available from The Wild Rose Press
Visit her website at www.debschneider.com to view her book trailer with photos she and her husband took in Montana and Wyoming.


Debby Lee said...

Dear Deborah, what a great post. I have a small childs table that was built by my great-grandfather. He made it for my Dad when my Dad was just a kid. My children make three generations who have used that little table. It means the world to me.
I was sorry to have missed your last book signing but I hope to make it to your next one. Best of luck to you.
Sincerely, Debby Lee,

Tanya Hanson said...

hi Deb, love the blog and the pix. I have my gramma's bedroom set in our guest room. It's so beautiful, full of nicks and even a water ring. But it tells stories! Her six kids were born in that bed, and I used to sleep with her in it when I visited. Now I sleep with my three-year old grandson when he comes over.

One of my treasures is the Ingraham mantle clock Gram got as a wedding present in 1917, and the nativity set my grandpa ordered her from Germany for their first Christmas together. Someday I'll pass it on to my daughter...but not anytime soon.

Thanks for the memories!

Celia Yeary said...

DEBORAH--you actually have that catalog? You have a real treasure that may be worth a lot of money--would you part with it and put it on eBay? Those are hard to come by, and did you know you can't even get an image of one off the internet? Sears has blocked all images of the covers. But if I want a particular piece of furniture for a book, I Google it and finds loads of photos. But those Sears covers--can't find them.I loved your photos, and while I don't have my house furnished in this manner, I have a friend who does and I absolutely love it. Thanks for this lovely article. Celia

P.L. Parker said...

I collect old photographs of women. I have a whole album. I like to look at them and wonder - who was she, did she have a good life, etc. Once in awhile there is a name on the back, but mostly unknown faces. But I love them. I do so get a kick out of some of the hairstyles. I also had one of those tables. Was in the garage until my husband decided it had to so. He sold it to an antique shop so I was okay with it.

Paty Jager said...

Great post, Deborah. I have that book and use it often as well. And I have surrounded myself with heirlooms. I have a dining room table my paternal grandmother's uncle gave her, her Morris reclining chair, and two old side tables. On my maternal grandmothers side I have her china and hutch with a tiger stripe veneer. Not to mention odds and ends of knick knacks.

Caroline Clemmons said...

Deborah, you and your mom are two people after my own heart. I love antiques, love going to garage and estate auctions. I'm in love with your blog and your home. How nice that your treasure antiques. Each one brings a story. Continued success with your writing!

Deborah Schneider said...

Thanks ladies for stopping by.
Debby - I have the toy cupboard I got for my 1st Christmas. You have a treasure. I'm sure I'll see you soon!

Tanya, I love the story of that bedroom set. It must be wonderful to share it with your grandchildren.

Celia, I won't part with my catalog. I had no idea it was so collectible. I'm lucky because my husband loves antiques too.

Deborah Schneider said...

P.L. - I have some photos of women I don't know and some of my family. They do spark the imagination, don't they?

Paty, you should post some photos of your antiques you have some great stuff!

Caroline, my Mom taught all her daughters to pinch pennies and be thrifty. It sure comes in handy now! Thanks for the good thoughts.

Anonymous said...


Sorry I'm a day late. I love garage and estate sales. I also love thrift stores and finding "gems" there. What a great find--the catalog! Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article and pics.

Ann Charles