Doorknobs & Doilies

April 2015_orahs pansy doilie
Pansy doily

Until I read the words, I had no idea. Who made this beautiful doily and where it came from was a mystery. I found it among many similar items in my mother’s attic. It was made by my great grandma Orah who, apparently, was quite crafty.

Given the era and level of family poverty, her efforts weren’t solely to kill time. As of this writing, the war had yet to end. Orah and her daughters made what was needed: dresses, tablecloths, tea towels, aprons, and various crocheted items. What wasn’t used was sold, if possible. Patterns were ordered, thread and fabric were purchased at the local store, and crafting began evenings, after chores.

PIX_BUTTERFIELD_DEC 1944_PANSY DOILIES
Pansy doilie, 1944

This letter was unsettling. If you’ve read the previous two posts, the tributes to my father, you will understand why learning where the doily came from, specifically who made it, was upsetting. My newly found but firmly held, not-so-kind opinion of its creator had been rattled. At first the doily itself made me happy. I felt proud, and I admired her work and creativity. I think I even smiled. Then my gut did the flippy floppy. I felt the scowl. I’d been struggling to muster the slightest bit of warmth–and admittedly, ANY like–for the woman who was my great grandma. The doily? It is beautiful. And, if I am being honest, it absolutely has meaning. Hold that thought…

My mother-in-law, Dorothy, owned several pieces of furniture that can make your heart sing if you appreciate antiques. I keep many of ours in what I call the granny room, my favorite room. It holds pieces from both my grandmothers, as well as my husband’s mother Dorothy and her mother Lucy.

My favorite pieces on my husband’s side are the high chair and dry sink. Dorothy sat in this chair when she was a baby. She was born in 1914. It’s the same high chair her older, half brother sat in when he was a baby. That makes this piece about 115 years old. That oozes cool, but here’s the best part: not only is this a high chair, it’s also a stroller. Were they ever on top of the game.

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High chair mode
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Stroller mode
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Lucy’s dry sink

The dry sink originally sat on Lucy’s enclosed, back porch where Dorothy grew up in Miamisburg. We visited that house a few years ago. We were able to as it’s on the historic registry. It was a treat to accompany our three children inside the very house their great grandfather (Lucy’s husband) built, the same home where their grandmother Dorothy was born, the same house in which their father played when he was a child. The house deserves a post all its own. It’s coming, and will be worth the read.

PIX_GEIER_DOOR KNOBS FROM GLADSTONE_APRIL 2015
Glass door knobs

As for other antiques we have the pleasure to display in our home, these can’t go without mention. Until they were released from previous ownership–said thief shall remain nameless–these door knobs used to reside in the home where I was raised. I can’t say I am completely unhappy there is a thief among us (although therapy or jail time may one day be required). Not only do these door knobs generate many happy memories, but they are pretty and they make great paper weights. They make me smile. Bottom line? While I am a little nervous about that thief, the knobs rock.

I’ve been very conflicted, though. Why do mere items or possessions elicit such strong feelings, why some more than others? This began last year during the process of moving mom and uncovering much of our history. I wondered what’s in the research, so I did a little digging.

Specifically, I wanted to know why I was attached to a doily. I didn’t know Orah, and I certainly have struggled with my less-than-positive feelings about her behavior (even though she passed away seven years before I was born). How come that dry sink means so much? I knew Dorothy, but not her mother. How come the idea of parting with that high chair/stroller is unthinkable? Why do those door knobs, the ones from my childhood home, bring such joy?

The stealing of, I mean, passing along of family heirlooms to the next generation, even items of little monetary value, has significant meaning. We define ourselves not only by our present, but our past and future. Possessions become an extension of self. In addition, they can act as a support system or ballast, an anchor to a familiar place, time, or circumstance. Maybe even a person. “A sense of past is essential to a sense of self” (1).

For me, it’s about continuity, pure and simple. That I didn’t know Orah or Lucy does not matter; that I have issues with certain behaviors is irrelevant. I feel exactly the same about the doily as I did before I knew its creator. It’s gorgeous. It’s flawless. I cannot get over the effort it took to create such perfection. It provides a connection to her, never mind my struggle with behaviors; it matters because she made that doily.

Is this the paradox, then, that someone with less than charitable behavior can create something so beautiful? Or, does my conflict originate elsewhere?

I don’t think I’ve been squirming so much about Orah’s behaviors, actions, or perceptions; rather, it’s about coming to terms with mine. She and dad are long gone, but I have a choice. I can choose to see Orah in a negative light. Or, I can accept her, flaws and all, as I hope one day my children and theirs will accept me for mine. The imperfections and flaws make us human, which brings to a close another chapter in my book on Perspective. The class is Life Lessons, 101.

PIX_BUTTERFIELD_ORAH HOUSE ON K ST_TACOMA_1940S I THINKPIX_GEIER_HOUSE ON K ST CLOSE UP VIEW

A backward glance…..the place was South K street, the year 1944. I try to imagine the house, Orah’s daily life, and how she felt (based on her letters). That’s Orah at the K street house where she lived with her daughter and my father. She lived here when she made that doily. The house above right is a current view; the photo below is a current kitchen view. She sat here near the wood-burning stove to keep warm while writing her many, many letters. Since the house became a rental I was able to take a peek inside through various on-line real estate sites. The porch is changed, but this was their house.

PIX_BUTTERFIELD_KITCHEN SOUTH K ST HOUSEOrah may never have given me a thought, whether she would have great grandchildren, but I have thought about her, plenty. That gave me an idea. As of this writing, I have no grandchildren. When I am long gone, though, there is something I’d love my grandchildren and their children to have: my quilts.

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There are big ones and small ones, and they are all over this house. Most were made when my three were in grade school. This was my therapy, my adult time, when the creative juices were flowing.

One of my greatest wishes is for my grandchildren (and their children) to know they are often thought of, and how saddened I am to think that, likely, I will never meet my great grandchildren.

How I wish I could be a presence in their lives.

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Maybe connection occurs through the passing of possessions, items we use daily, some we take for granted. Maybe continuity arises from a mere glance, seeing an object made long ago.

From Orah to dad to Lalla to me and beyond, there is continuity, and the connection lives.

I understand that right now, heirlooms are mere objects to my children. I get it. I can also say, with a fair amount of certainty, that one day, one day far, far away, objects will become heirlooms, and they will matter.

Meantime, class is in session.

(1) Belk, R.W. (1990). “The Role of Possessions in Constructing and Maintaining a Sense of Past”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 17, eds. Marvin E. Goldberg, Gerald Gorn, and Richard W. Pollay, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 669-676. (http://www.acrwebsite.org/search/view-conference-proceedings.aspx?Id=7083).

Reflection: Do you own irreplaceable heirlooms? What makes them meaningful? Is it possible to cherish an item owned or created by someone you did not know (or respect)? Does continuity enter your thought processes when you think of heirlooms?

NEXT: Losing a Dear Friend

7 thoughts on “Doorknobs & Doilies

  • It’s so strange that this morning, I sat with my sister talking about the historic pieces we have from generations past. In clearing down my mum’s house after she died (which was very hard), we also came across lots of photographs, letters etc. from relatives we’d never known and yet somehow we are tied to them.. they retain a meaning for us which is difficult to explain.. I have so much of mum’s furniture dotted around my house, it reminds me of her constantly.. Infact the corner cupboard full of clutter in my post yesterday was originally my mums and was a piece passed through several generations of her family. Also the mahogany table I use to take many of my photographs of food etc. was also a family heirloom and I couldn’t bear to part with it so got rid of my modern furniture to enable this to be part of our home.. It’s fascinating that we hold onto those past heirlooms and that they mean so much to us… Thanks so much for sharing this insight. I LOVE your patchworks by the way – I made some pieces of patchwork years ago but never really finished them into pieces that could be used like your quilts. They really are a wonderful ‘future’ heirloom that your family will admire for years to come! x

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    • Thank you, Wendy! It’s odd to me I am attached to things that were Orah’s, yet, because she influenced all those on dad’s side before me, she persists, she endures; she’s STILL here. LOL. I think this attachment represents continuity particularly since I never met her. I love that you got rid of something new to keep the old. How I’m sure that made your mother smile from above. ❤ It was very hard going through our house as well. I'm working on a post now called Charmed about yet another mystery involving dad. We uncovered many while going through that house. Maybe that's why those things, even though they are just things, mean so much…it's a way to hang onto dad and your mum. My home is dotted with items from dad's side, including my husband's side. You found relatives you did not know of before? How WONDERFUL. What will you do now? Contact them, try to find out about them? Keep me posted. I love this kind of re-connection. 🙂

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      • Thanks Karen.. I know it’s strange how we ‘hold on’ to the past regardless of how good/bad it may have been.. it’s part of making us who we are today I think. I hope mum was smiling from above – she did love that table and I couldn’t bear to part with it.. My hubby and sons weren’t too impressed though as it does ‘wobble’ a bit when we all gather round it for Sunday lunch – even that makes me smile.. We connected with some relatives (my mum’s half siblings) that we hadn’t known existed as she was bought up with her sister Astrid by their dad. Their mum left when they were only young just before the 2nd World War started I think.. Mum’s dad was a real Jekyll and Hyde character and not easy to live with and we suspect that possibly their mother had an affair and became pregnant by someone else hence leaving.. It was a really sad story actually. Anyway to cut a long story short.. my sister worked really hard to trace their mother and although it was too late to meet her as she had died many years before, we did discover that they had 2 half brothers and a half sister who were still alive.. It was quite a strange meeting though – good to have done it but it’s unlikely we’d keep in touch and one of the brothers has since died. Their daughters and sons weren’t too happy at meeting us… very strange experience… but still a good one.. We also found that there is an American connection but we can’t quite work out what it was. Some of the ‘Housleys’ emigrated to New York and I do vaguely recall an American relative staying at our home when I was very young but sadly we have no names etc. to do any further tracing.. maybe one day when I have more time once I retire… I’ll keep visiting those old posts – I love them! x

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        • I’ve tried to find information on my paternal grandfather but no luck. I’ve used Ancestry.com, but have not purchased a membership, yet. I probably will later. Have you tried that one? I love that wobbly table. How utterly charming. Makes one feel that its prior owner must be nearby. 😉 Have you considered writing a book about the story you told me above? Sounds like book-worthy material.

          My great aunt married a man we believe was a criminal–he changed his name many times and refused to give details about his former life–dad experienced losing some of his own possessions, items later found in the man’s basement. I believe when someone changes their name multiple times, there has to be a pretty juicy reason. He was clever, hiding details, and finding them now is tricky. That his wife, my great aunt, had “incriminating papers” buried with her when she died, wasn’t any help (because she loved him). He wasn’t kind to a family member when we were children so I need to take care what I post now regarding this individual. Maybe later. Regardless, I’d LOVE to learn about his past. Sounds like you have a great story on your hands as well. 🙂

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          • I have started writing a book based on some of the stories I’m aware of but combining those within a novel. However… I started it several years ago and haven’t got very far.. maybe one day – It’s a definite goal! That sounds fascinating family history to research and yes I did sign up to Ancestry.com for a period of time and we were able to trace my mums side of the family back to the 1500’s which was fascinating and we even found gravestones etc. It’s amazing what you can glean from this site and also link with other arms of the family who were researching as well.. Definitely worth it! I’d love to hear more if you do find out anything.. fancy your great aunt burying the papers with her.. fascinating! x

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