Sunday, November 09, 2008

Cleaning Out My Mother's House.

I must publicly thank Girlchild, for giving up a day off on an absolutely flawless Florida November Day - bright skies, 75 degrees - to drive to Grandma's House to do the very depressing task of disposing of the contents of the house. She made it a breeze. I won't say it was fun, because even my standard of "fun" hasn't dropped THAT low yet (but it's getting there) but it was more than tolerable. She went through the kitchen and claimed a lot of kitchen stuff. I found the key to the hope chest at last - did I tell you that story? My mother's hope chest was full of family photos and such, and when I went to unload it months ago, it was...locked. Um. Why? So I asked my mother, who airily responded - the key is on the keychain! And thus began a search of the house on the next visit, for the keychain in question. Nada.

So, after her death, I'm going through papers and papers and papers, and trying to figure out what's what, and I found more than one key ring with odd little keys on them. And one said "Lane." Hallefreakinluia. It was the magic key, and I unloaded the hope chest today, and unearthed treasures of all sorts - my parents' wedding album, and even more adorably, my mother's autograph book from her high school graduation in 1940.* I had no idea, but my antisocial and difficult mother was vice-president of the senior class in high school. Her autograph book is full of affectionate and admiring notes from her classmates. I'd love to know what caused her to change from that girl to the woman who raised me.

*Edited. As I was rereading this, the math didn't add up. 1940 wasn't her high school graduation, it was junior high. She was born in '26, in 1940 she'd have been 14. So I have no record of her high school years and beyond, until she married my father when she was 27. So the change from VP of the class wasn't quite as abrupt as it seems, but is no less baffling.

Girlchild reviewed her wedding album and concluded that Grandma could have done better than Grandpa. She said he had that sort of skinny vampire look, like Marc Anthony. Grandma always thought he looked like David Niven. Didn't see it myself. In his later years, he morphed more toward Abe Vigoda. Did see that one. His true "you look like" was Kojak's boss, Dan Frazer. That was so close, people would stop him on the street (in DC!) and get snippy when he refused to give than an autograph.

But my mother was a bona fide hottie - in that classic "garter picture" in her wedding album, she has the most perfect legs ever. She always complained that they were "skinny," but they weren't, not even for her era.

But the biggest and bestest part of the day - after Girlchild raided the kitchen and scored vintage Corning casserole dishes and the old school heavy quality Revere Ware - was in the back closet. My mother's coats. Would you believe, my 5'9" daughter looks born to wear her grandmother's (not mink) coats? The fur-collared wool boucle coat? gorgeous on her. But the short, chunky fur jacket, circa 1955? Freaking awesome.

Yeah, I know, we have the same squicky feeling about fur, but as Girl pointed out, these critters would have died of old age before she was born. Now they are just a relic of the 50s. A bit of her pretty vice president of her class grandmother, who had great legs.

But the great amusement is that they fit her. My mother was 5 foot nothing. My daughter is 5'9". Coats were so oversized in my mother's day, these coats swam on her. They brushed my mother's ankles, she was wrapped in them. They fit Girlchild in a trim, contemporary, wearable way. Kicking self for not taking pictures of her modeling them. The bracelet length sleeves hit her at the right length - the length they were designed to hit. She was Grace Kelly in jeans and flip-flops. We both felt sad that Grandma wasn't there to see her coats go to her granddaughter, who adores them. But I could hear my mother squealing with happiness. She would so totally approve.

Me, I'm so squicky about fur I wouldn't really wear them, and on me they'd look wrong - on a 25 year old, a 50 or 60 year old fur looks retro-chic, and nobody will believe it's real anyway. The short fur jacket, skinny jeans and her new boots - oh yeah, she's already planning a winter vacation. On a 50 year old, you're just wearing your mother's coat; the hipness factor needs at least a generation to ripen.

But I have Pictures Out the Wazoo! And the hope chest! And the china and silver. And Catholic stuff - we were Extreme Catholic back in the day! And the plaque I received for winning a county school poetry contest in 1970. I didn't submit an entry - my teacher, whose name I do not even remember, even though she was a hip, young Sister Somebody bucking the culture of St Reactionary in 1970, and who had a big influence on me when I was 12 - submitted it without my knowledge. Imagine my surprise when they said I'd won - I didn't think it was all that good, and I was honestly appalled. Obviously I was not fit to be an English major, and it's probably a good thing that I went into legal shit and development and found my calling among sewer easements.

And I have fabulously geometric and monochromatic crocheted tablecloths - I will have to photograph those when I have time. I'm trying to guesstimate their age - older than I am is a given, but beyond that, I have no idea when my Gram made them. From the designs, I'm wild-ass-guessing maybe the 30s? 40s? Still in lovely condition, and a little soak in gentle soap, a good rinse and drying (somehow - my drying rack totally isn't up to it, these are big dining table tablecloths) and they'd be like new. And they are proof of the sophistication of crochet - the crocheted stuff I was raised on, not the appalling lumpy things in elecric blue still passed off today.

And I got an offer on the furniture, which I have to think on a bit - I will counter. But the ultimate goal is to get the house emptied out, and this guy is willing to take a lot of crap and pick through it for the treasures, and not cherry pick the good stuff and leave me to hire a truck to haul off the rest, and I must keep that goal in mind. I just hate to see vintage furniture going for so cheap, but it's not like we have a big city market there - and the cost of shopping it to bigger markets would eat the profit to be made in a bigger market. So. Gotta think on this.

Long, busy, productive day. No photos yet. Too tired, and The Bossy One is bugging the crap out of me for a Walkie. He resents being left out of the road trip, and I owe him.


amarkonmywall said...

Darn, I'm a bull dog, too. I wanted to be German Shepard or a chocolate lab. I mean, it's cool to be like you, but- a bull dog?

This was a powerful (good) post. I sounds as though it was quite the day for you and your daughter. Lots to digest after all that sorting through. I really want to see those crocheted table clothes- really, I do.

Hey- guess what? My mom was born in 1926. December 3. I relished finding her journal of her high school/college years after she died. It cast some new light on the woman I didn't know all that well.

Francesca said...

Wow, that actually does sound like something approximating fun, especially the coats. :-)

My dad was born in 1926, and I have quite a few really interesting things from his youth. I'm fascinated by anything pre-mid-century.

I want to see the Extreme Catholic Stuff! A friend of mine was given some random vintage Catholicana by someone who was cleaning out the estate of an elderly woman who basically just collected it. I ended up with a huge 15-decade wooden rosary and some fascinating 1940s prayerbooks.

And the tablecloths! If you figure out how to dry them I'd be curious, because it would help me to figure out how to block things that are too big for my blocking board... none of my solutions have pleased me thus far.

(My verif. word is "horwator." Say it out loud...LOL)


Amy in StL said...

I wish I still lived on the coast. I really need new furniture and I'm tired of picking through the crap that stores sell as good quality and the even bigger pile of crap that I'm finding at re-sell it shops here. If my current furniture wasn't too big for my current condo, I'd just have it refurbished. Blah!

Linda said...

I'm so glad you found the key! And that Girlchild can and WILL wear the coats. That's awesome! I don't envy your furniture task though. It's a shame more people don't appreciate the quality of good funiture.

Cursing Mama said...

When I was "little" I wanted to be an archeologist - but not one that had to hang out in dirt (go figure). When I had the honor of going through my grandparents things and seeing the things they chose to save I felt a lot like the archeologist I had once wanted to be.

Linda said...

Whoa! How did I miss the crocheted tableclothes first read? I'd love to see pictures of these when you have time. I'll bet the are amazing.