Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Roadkill, Redemption, and Fine Furniture

When I moved out here, I sold off most of my furniture. Almost all of it had started as roadkill: furniture abandoned in the trash, sold at yard sales, neglected for decades before I spotted it. (Yes, to be fair: I was almost always the one who spotted the furniture. Billy and I refinished it together, with him doing the heavy carpentry.) My antiques had been painfully found, refinished, cherished into beauty. Redeemed. That has always been much more satisfying for me than going to a furniture store and buying something brand-new.

When we were living outside Philadelphia, a neighbor of ours bought an old farmhouse table in terrible condition. She decided it was unfixable and threw the pieces of it away. I spotted it from my office window (oh, I see that room, the forest-green curtains I made, the old rolltop, the library table) and went outside to drag it to safety. I got the last piece just before the trash truck came.

Billy and I worked on it for a day. I hand-sanded the lathe-turned legs for hours, while he dealt with the top, which was warped. Then a few coats of polyurethane, and we had a stunning table. Solid cherry.

That's what we did with the other furniture, too. The Hoosier cabinet, the mahogany glass-fronted bookcase (bought before I met Billy), the tiger-oak buffet, the Victorian dresser I spotted in a Long Island trash heap. All refinished, all turned into objects of worth and beauty, all sold when I moved. The rocker and the rolltop desk that had belonged to my great-grandfather. The Victorian oak library catalogs. All gone now.

I love them because I lived with them, because they carry emotional weight -- not for impressing others, nor for assessed value. I love them because I redeemed them. Redeemed furniture is a promise that I, who am a ruin in so many ways, can also become beautiful, admirable, loved. That there is something of intrinsic worth even in the broken and discarded and scorned.

(Do I anthropomorphize my possessions? Of course. I pour out on my people and on environment -- landscape, home, possessions -- the love and care and appreciation I needed and didn't get, and that I still need and cannot always give myself.)

These things were broken and abandoned when I found them, and the men who came to buy them treated them with studied contempt -- trying to keep the prices down. So it took almost three years for me to recognize that they haven't been thrown away. Someone went into the Binghamton antique store and found the rolltop. Someone is eating their meals off the cherry table and admiring the deep glow of the finish. I haven't abandoned them. I've passed them along to someone who wanted and needed them.

That makes all the difference.

No comments: