At her wonderful blog, Lawn Tea (see side bar), my friend Rachel had a wonderful piece about What-Not shelves (http://lawntea.blogspot.com/2010/03/what-not-or-not.html). You should go read that first because that is the post that inspired this one. Go ahead, I'll wait....ok, back? Wasn't that wonderful? Well, if you read the comments you can see that I said: "What-not shelves must skip a generation in my Momma's family. I can remember Bomo having shelves crammed with souvenirs, S&P shakers, and, shamefully, what a good friend calls ‘Negrobilia’ – kerchief headed Mammys and Uncles with white whiskers. When she was a little girl, one of Momma’s chores was to dust all this stuff, a chore she detested, so we had NOTHING in our house.” I harkened back to Bomo, though, and my shelves are stuffed with pictures, The Child’s childhood artwork, family mementoes, etc.
A sampling of The Child’s artistic output:
My Younger mementos:
My maiden name is ‘Younger’ and we are supposedly related to the Younger Brothers – outlaws who rode with Jesse James. My collection includes a book published sometime around 1920 called The Younger Brothers Bank and Train Robbers of the West: An Authentic and Thrilling History of the Most Noted Bandits of Ancient or Modern Times and a commemorative mug from the Madison, MN 100th Anniversary Celebration of the Younger brothers capture.
A decorator would come in and tell me to clear the decks, but I just feel happier with all those items within view. If there was a cosmic balance in the universe, my decorating style would fall somewhere between Bomo's crammed to the rafters style and Momma's more Scandinavian approach. But I think that I'm actually WORSE than Bomo. A Victorian matron would be perfectly at home in my house (I don't have the antiques, just the attendant clutter). I've said before somewhere (it is totally in keeping that I don't know WHERE - here? a letter to a friend? a conversation? Lord knows) that my decorating/craft/life-style is 'collage' and it is really true. I love pretty things and if one is good, 5 are better and if you layer them, they will look even lovelier. (Oddly enough this concept does not extend to my person – I wear the bare minimum of jewelry most of the time and NEVER too much – I like the rule of putting on all the jewelry that you think you need to wear and then taking one piece off).
After Bomo passed and Bubba was planning on moving to an apartment, I went down to Florida with Momma and Ted to help clean and sort and such. I had a horror of all of Bomo's dearly loved pieces sitting forlornly on shelves at Goodwill (though I DO like the thought of the thrill that they would give a collector - I've had that thrill) and scooped up all the things that no one wanted. It really wasn’t avarice and I only took the things that I remembered and that I knew must have meant something to her. There was her 1847 Rogers Bros. silverplate, some pottery, lots of glassware and most beloved of all, her Roseville cooky jar:
These go from upwards of $250 on ebay, but I would never sell it. It always stood in every kitchen of hers and from it she dispensed those truly terrible cheap Voortman cookies - coconut bars, sugar cookies, sugar wafers w/ sugar laced shortening between improbably pink wafers, 'chocolatey chip' cookies, etc. - the kind that they seem to SELL stale. They really are awful cookies, but every so often, I have to have one - my Proustian moment, I guess.
These were also Bomo’s:
There are two of the candlesticks and I remember Bomo keeping the ruby candy dish full of hard candy - peppermints, butterscotch and the like.
My father's mother, Bebo, didn't have a lot of knick-knacks, that I remember. There was a cedar chest or two - filled with magical things like invitations to White House dinners and dances and dance cards. My grandfather, Thomas Younger was Custodian of the Congress (or maybe the Senate) up to his death in the late 1930's. This job entailed the day to day management of the US Capitol building and it's employees - anything not covered by the congressmen's staff. His funeral was the first private citizen's for which Congress adjourned. I have a copy (somewhere) of the Congressional Record page on the day that the announcement of his death and the adornment was read. Bebo was very modern and thought all that a bunch of old fashioned stuff that I wouldn't be interested in. But I would have! I loved all the little hints that she gave of parties and dancing and drinkin'! As a matter of fact, the knick-knacks that made the most impact on my little girl mind were a giant martini glass and a rubber martini olive the size of a lemon. They were eventually set high up on her china cabinet – I believe that the olive might have had some bite marks in it (I was a biter - of things, NOT people). 1960's objet d'art, I reckon.
Rather than a What-Not shelf, I have a What-Not house. The only true What-Not shelf that I have is this one that my Granddaddy made:
He made this as a young man when he still worked with wood. He later became fascinated with metal. I remember him driving by a house in Greensboro that was being framed in all steel. He visited it often while it was being built and thought that steel framing was the smartest thing anyone had ever done. I had another shelf that he made, similar to this one with a little drawer. It was lost in a move somewhere and I’ve mourned it ever since.
Every space in my house is covered with knick-knacks - pictures, silver baby cups - Bebo did have these:
This cup and dish are engraved ‘John’ and were my father’s. They were a gift from then Senator Harry S. Truman and his wife.
I also have Mr. Kim’s, The Child’s and mine:
I love that the older pieces were obviously used – they have scratches and dents from fat little fists bashing them against a table.
The top of the piano:
The ‘Wedding Corner’:
This includes photos, a lovely announcement that was cross stitched by my cousin, Judy and a wonderful book called The Marriage Altar, published in 1898 with chapters on ‘Choosing a Wife’, ‘Choosing a Husband’ and ‘Secrets of Wedded Happiness’. One of our favorite wedding gifts was this:
It is one of our wedding invitations, beautifully decorated with watercolored flowers, vines and leaves.
There are things that I have made, things that The Child has made, scrapbooks, photo albums, etc. Also my seemingly endless collections - Wizard of Oz memorabilia (a whole post that I'll do someday), Depression glass, linens, ceramics, children's books. But I don't know how to get rid of most of them. They represent people - people that I love and some of whom are gone now.
A small portion of my collection of children’s literature:
My Trixie Beldens, Donna Parkers and, of course, Queen Nancy are elsewhere.
A mini cookstove and a collection of tiny card games from Momma and Bomo:
My dining room is an especially rich trove of knick-knacks. My wonderful father-in-law, Kenny, built a beautiful shallow shelf with a rail around 3 of our dining room walls and these are chock-full of china, glass, etc.:
Here is the china cabinet with china, crystal and silver:
And the sideboard with more:
As you can see, I also collect cake plates. Almost none of this stuff was purchased by us in a regular store. Most of it is inherited, gifts, flea market or thrift store purchases. I like the idea of rescuing beautiful things.
The kitchen is also full. This is what we call Banshee’s cabinet:
It’s called that because this was where we fed our kitty Banshee to keep her food away from the always voracious pug, Otis. Both are gone now, but in this house, change comes slowly. It is an old cabinet, almost like a Hoosier, but drawers and a shelf in place of a top cupboard and sifter, that Momma and Ted found in their garage when they moved to Florida. It was stained a peculiar orange color. I took it home and painted it in my beloved pastels and loaded it up with the pastel ceramics that I collect. More ceramics:
I am not the only collector in the house. Here is Mr. Kim’s kaleidoscope collection:
A friend of a friend had a little side business with her husband. They would bid on the contents, sight unseen, of those rental storage units that people had stopped paying for and sell the items at flea markets. They would let us purchase things before taking them to sell. I got some amazing items - frames, a large mirror, beautiful table linens, etc., but it made me sad to see all of the lovely abandoned pieces. Why were all of these things that should have been cherished lost to their owners? Why didn't someone claim the family pictures, the beautiful hand crocheted dresser scarves? These are things that I treasure from my own family. Was there a death and the family didn't know about the storage place? Did they know and not care? The whole idea of that distresses me.
I know that I have a tendency to romanticize things and people and places. This is especially true with 'special' household items. Were they wedding gifts? Items carefully saved for out of housekeeping money? With my grandmother's things, I picture her as a young wife and mother, working everyday and saving back a tiny bit every week for something pretty that caught her eye. Maybe she wandered around Woodward and Lothrop (a sadly defunct DC department store) during her lunch hour and saw a platter or serving piece and pictured it on her table. I imagine her delight when she finally had saved enough to purchase it and take it home. Maybe she had friends over as soon as she could just to show off her new treasure. I remember how much Bomo loved pretty things and when I look at the pieces that I have of hers, I'm glad that she had them to make her happy.