A donation recently came into the Island Treasures Resale Shop: a large and lovely dining room hutch. Oh, it brought back memories of years and years of wishing for one. That, with a matching dining room table and chairs, would make me feel like I had finally reached some pinnacle of achievement that I was constantly falling short of.
This obscure vision of success always revolved around possessions or, at least, things that cost money. In grade school, I thought I needed a professional haircut, patent leather shoes, a mohair sweater. When I got those things, and my life was not fulfilled in the way I expected, I thought of other things I lacked. If only our house was surrounded by a white picket fence…if our dog were a Pekinese rather than a mutt…and, oh, if only I had clothes like Dee Lynn Hathaway!
By the time I reached high school, I’d moved on to bigger and better things. Now, I was plotting my adult life. I went through the catalogs – we received them from Sears & Roebuck, J.C. Penney and Montgomery Ward – and planned my future. I picked out the clothes that would make up my adult wardrobe, the hairstyle that would flatter my adult self, and even the model (dark hair, cute, not too glamorous) that I could hope to grow into. Sometimes, even a future husband.
Then, on to the S & H Green Stamp catalog. Past the pages of wristwatches, telescopes and toys, there were photos of entire rooms full of furniture! My style, I determined, would be French Provincial, where all the pieces were light, curvy and delicate-looking. In the living room, the television would be a large console model; the sofa would be accompanied by a coordinating love seat and chair; every table would match. Room by room, I planned my future.
Of course, when I actually became an adult, and started setting up my household, all of those plans went sideways. There were the realities of living within my means, and of living with children and pets. There were lots of moves to various, odd and challenging homes.
Still, I dreamed. That matching dining room set, with a hutch for displaying fine dishes, stayed with me for quite a while. The Pottery Barn catalog replaced the others, and for years my wish list included the large, slip-covered, roll-armed sofa that I found in its pages. The Ikea catalog thrillingly offered a hundred good solutions, all within my budget. Until I learned how expensive the freight costs would be, and how daunting their merchandise is to assemble.
I came to realize that it was rewarding, in its own way, to improvise with what came my way. Accepting cheap or hand-me-down clothing and furniture, and putting my own spin on it. became my way of life. If I had managed to acquire a matching dining room set back when it seemed so very important, I may have been the one recently delivering it to the resale shop. There is certainly no room in my house – or my life – for that kind of extravagance.
My living space, now, contains a mixture: an armchair that was a gift from Emma Jean when she got new furniture; curtains that came out of my daughter Jen’s house eighteen years ago; two side chairs that came from Roy’s Erin Motel; the small bookcase that my brother, Ted, built for me in Wood Shop; dining room chairs that my friend Huey and I snatched from a dumpster at MSU. And my precious dining room table. My Dad brought it home nearly sixty years ago, from a junk sale, and set it up in the back room of our house. For the rest of my childhood, it was the clothes-folding table…and folding clothes was my job. After a roundabout journey as a party table in the family garage, it came to me after my mother died. It’s the perfect complement to my jumble of furnishings. When I was much younger, I would have judged this style “tacky;” now, I call it “Eclectic.”