Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Genealogy of Heirlooms

Definition:  heirloom
1.  : a piece of property that descends to the heir as an inseparable part of an inheritance of real property
2.  : something of special value handed on from one generation to another
3.  : a horticultural variety that has survived for several generations usually due to the efforts of private individuals

Often our most interesting family stories come from the history we learn and pass on along with a specific heirloom.  Enjoy the following stories about such treasures. Add any of your own you would like to share. 


My Great-Grandfather's Desk
         It was a dark night, sometime around 1944 or 1945 and we were at Aunt Aggie's house.  I forget where she lived in Savannah, but I do remember we were there.  I always enjoyed going to her house because she let me play with a little weather vane with Hansel and Gretel and the Witch on it.  She also let me sit on her little wooden stool.  I don't think of her as being small, but she must have been short because she took the stool with her when she traveled.  Aunt Aggie was my paternal great-grandmother.  I have no idea why I called her "Aunt."  Her name was Adelaide. 
        That night, Aunt Aggie gave us two red stools and my great-grandfather's desk.  When we left we put the stools in the car, and I got into the back seat.  I remember Daddy tying the desk to the car for the trip home, but I do not remember other details.  I know that it wasn't Daddy's car because we didn't have a car until I was in the third grade at Henry Street School.  It was probably Daddy Swann's car.
        That is my last recollection of the desk until we moved to Hill Street in Americus, Georgia.  I vaguely remember that the desk was in my room.  When we moved to Taylor Street, the desk was inside the entry door to the apartment.  That is where my memories really become clear about the desk.  I  kept all my crayons, paper, and "treasures" in the desk.  (I was a pack rat then and still am to this day.) 
        The long, slender legs of the desk make it shaky and top top heavy.  The writing surface of the desk is a drop leaf design.  When the leaf is down, you can see the two little drawers and the many compartments inside the desk. There are two drawers located under the writing area.  The tip of the front right leg's foot, as you are facing the desk, is broken off.

        The desk always housed "my stuff."  When we returned to Savannah (Barnard Street) from Americus, Georgia, it remained mine.  It was kept in the living room on Barnard Street, just to the right of the door that entered the bedroom.  While we were living there, Mother had the desk redone.
        From there the desk moved with the family to 39th and Whitaker Streets where it resided in my room.  In the 1950s it was moved to our new home on Wilmington Island where it stayed until I married.  It then moved with us to Nelson Apartments. 
        The use of the desk continued to take a toll on its wobbly legs.  In 1966, after the divorce, I moved from Nelson Apartments back to my parents' home on Wilmington Island.  The desk was stored in Mama Swann's attic on 60th Street where it stayed until her death.  From there it was moved to Mother's attic on Wilmington Island Road.  For years, I "talked" about having the desk restored as it had been damaged in storage.  The legs were off, the veneer was chipped, and the top was scarred with water stains.  The desk was in horrible condition, but it had sentimental value that could not be expressed in dollars and cents.
        A half century has passed since Aunt Aggie gave me the desk.  Where is the desk?  The desk is in my living room.  It is like new again.  It is beautiful.  The design in the wood is predominant.  The restorer told Dale the veneer is "tiger stripes" and is rare.  All four legs are now sturdy and strong.  The veneer is unblemished, carefully patched from a stripe of wood taken from inside one of its drawers.  If you don't know where to look, you will not even notice the "patch."  The water stains on the top surface of the desk are gone. 
        It is now April 6, 1995.  It is my 58th birthday, To celebrate, we dined at Carey Hilliard's Restaurant--Karen, Dale, Sheree, Mother, and Nancy.  Dale had been teasing me about my birthday present for weeks.  He told me, "Mom, your present is bigger than a parakeet, but it is smaller than a car."  Wow, what a size range!  After we ate, I couldn't wait any longer and asked Dale, "Where is my gift?"  I figured I had waited long enough.  He laughed and said, "It has been in your house for weeks.."  "No," I said to him, "where in the house is it?"  He answered, "In the guest bathroom, standing in the tub behind the shower curtain."   Now I wondered even more--"What could it be?"
        We left the restaurant, saying "Good-byes" to Karen and Nancy, and went to my house.  Mother rode with me, and Dale and Sheree rode in their car.  Of course, we left the restaurant first, but Dale got to the house first.  He and Sheree were peeping out the window when we drove up.  Dale greeted me at the door and said, "Close your eyes."  He took my hands and lead me into the room.  "Open your eyes," he said.  I opened my eyes and there stood the desk, in all its splendor.  My desk!  It was standing there before me, shinny and new, all in one piece.  It was unbelievable.  Never in my wildest dreams, did I think it would look this good again.  Dale and Sheree were presenting me with a very special gift--my old desk.  Such a wonderful gift.  This was the second time the desk came to me in this fashion.  The first time it was a gift from my great-grandmother, and the second time from my son.  It was truly a surprise.  Words or actions could not express to either of them how touched I was by their gift.
        We "ohed and awed" over the desk as Dale settled it in its new location.  They left and took Mother home.  It was now my time to be alone with my old friend.  I rubbed my hands over the smooth surface of its drop leaf.  I opened the drawers and thought about all the "things" I used to store there.  I remembered the hours that I had spent with it, doing homework and drawing.  I looked at the legs again and tried to remember if the foot had been broken all along.  I laughed to myself and pondered, "Has it always had a disability and I just didn't notice?"  I opened the top and looked inside.  The little compartments were there and so were those two, wonderful, very special little drawers.  One drawer was on the right side, and one on the left.  They were just begging to be used by my "junk" again.  The desk was as happy as I was.  Two old friends, together again after many, many years.  Both happy the other was doing so well.  The desk was showing me all its renewed beauty and I was welcoming it into my home.  We were both very content and comfortable with each another.
        I sat there for about an hour, thinking of all the people in the family that the desk could remember with me.  The desk could remember ones I had never known.  In my mind's eye, I could see Aunt Aggie we took the desk from her house.  I could see  my Daddy, young and strong, loading the desk for its travels.  I could see the little Hummel's that used to sit on its top that Uncle Bill gave Mother.  I could see Billy Boy sitting on his "stick" that used to be kept in the corner by the desk.  I thought about Toby.  I thought about Mama and Daddy Swann, Uncle Jim, Muddy, and others who were no longer with us.  I had to tell my desk that they were gone.  This was sad for us both, but not for long, because I realized who happy the desk and I were that it was now home.
        The desk told me it was happy to have seen Mother.  It couldn't believe that Dale was already a grown man and married to such a lovely young lady.  The desk told me, "Dale will always be special to me, because Dale was the one who restored me and reunited us."  The desk seemed excited to hear that Karen also was married and happy.  It said it looked forward to seeing her again and meeting her family.  It told me it was looking forward to seeing the other members of the family and meeting the new ones.  I thought about all those who were still around who would look upon its new beauty and think about the place it had shared in their lives. 
        My desk was definitely happy to be home and loved again.  It stood there strong and proud.  I asked it how it felt.  The desk answered, "Like I just came from the furniture store."  I smiled, and thought about what was ahead for me.  My friend came home at a good time.  I told it I was having trouble with my legs and that an operation was just a few months off.  I confided in the desk that I was afraid.  The desk told me, "Silly girl, don't be afraid.  Look at me!  I was in bad shape and now I am like new."  I decided then and there that the hip replacement would be no more than what had happened to my desk. 
        We said good night, I closed its top and went to bed.  It was a good knowing my old friend was nearby.

        Written  April 16, 1995


  1. Fascinating, remind me on some events on Mum's side of the family.

  2. What a treasure your desk is. It's beautiful!
    I think you could turn this into a wonderful children's story book!

  3. Thanks for the encouragement. I feel very blessed to be the current caretaker of the desk.