Anything But the Plague

I just finished reading a section of The New Yorker Magazine in which an especially talented cadre of writers share a page from their quarantined lives. I had planned to write about the plague in terms of paranoia—a thing I rarely experience, but really with everything going on, and the husband and I being of the high-risk category, it’s hard not to cringe when using the POS machine in Fred Meyer.

So I decided to write about lamps.

Not really. I don’t have anything else to write about except the plague. I just happened to look over at the lap next to my desktop; it is old. Once a milk-glass globe, my grandmother—the same one who was a seamstress—painted it red for inexplicable reasons. She performed a lot of strange upgrading of lamps and furniture. I also ended up with two 3-drawer dressing table chests with Queen Anne feet. I believe their original color was white. Their roles as dressing table chests—the linking table surface being long, long gone—the little chests graduated to other roles, one of which required the amputation of one of the chest’s Queen Anne feet. Therefore one is three inches shorter than the other.

The mission-style rocking chair I also acquired had at some point been painted white—perhaps originally as well—then black, and finally its beautiful oak wood was revealed as one of my sisters removed all the paint. We know now, via condescending sneers on the faces of appraisers on The Antiques Road Show, that one should never, ever remove paint, varnish, stain or decals from old furniture.

My grandmother’s Camelback couch no longer sported the signature hump. My sister, who experimented with upholstery, believed that the hump had either been sawed off or flipped over, and still inside the back of the sofa. My grandmother the seamstress did her own upholstery. That couch likely underwent several wardrobe changes. That couch also traveled among my sisters and myself. I left it with a housemate when I left San Francisco.

There was also my mother’s wing chair, re-upholstered multiple times. We left that at the assistant living home after she died.

There are still the Encyclopedia Britannica book shelves. They used to be delivered to American homes in their own solid walnut book shelves. My knowledge of this and memory of them in our home proves that I am in the high-risk category for the plague. I recall we had two of them; I have one, and one of my sisters the other.

The furniture that was in our home was of no value. We were told the wind-up mantle clock providing the night-time background music of our living room was very old. One of my sisters has that one, too.

I am a fan of my parents’ ceramics and pottery sets. Bauer, Redwing, Marquest and Brock. All, with the exception of Redwing, came from Southern California potteries. I’ve got most of this. There is a chocolate pot and a few lone cups, all that’s left of my mother’s Haviland French Potters set.

There is the cherry secretary my mother moved from house to house as she and my father settled and decamped. The desk-board was shattered one day due to our mastiff puppy’s exuberance. We haven’t yet repaired or replaced it.

I, of course, browse thrift stores and antique stores, looking for likely additions. A 50’s veneered trestle table, a mahogany two-leaf table.

It’s on my project list, not actually a high priority, to remove the flaking white paint from the crippled little chest. It will look spiffy in one of my spare rooms, despite what the ARS appraisers think about it.

(There’s a couch somewhere in the picture above. But mostly I just wanted to show the matching jumpers my grandmother made us; and I am holding my new doll, adorned in one of the dresses she made as well.)

Blog film accompaniment:   A Dandy in Aspic, 1968. Check out the adorable Mia Farrow.



About Jill Zeller

Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all. Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this. Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison


Anything But the Plague — 3 Comments

  1. I remember matching dresses! My sister was the seamstress though. She’d make herself something, then use the left overs to dress me and our cousin. With 8 years between us in age, she made sure her outfit was very stylish and ours… ordinary.

    As for furniture, the prize is a set of nesting tables from China my dad bought during his Merchant Marine tours. After a number of moves the horse glue holding them together failed. My uncle the woodsmith stripped them of their defining black lacquer, ARS people hide your eyes, refinished them in their natural mahogany and put them back together quite soundly. They are lovely, even without the original finish.

  2. Thanks for nostalgia, Jill! My husband Thor refinishes old Waterfall furniture, and on his searches for likely candidates, he finds a lot of “crimes” against the beautiful wood veneers by people who have painted them. Not worth the trouble to restore, in a lot of cases. But most important is to find the style and finish that you like!

  3. Kind of reminds me of the family snooker table. My Dad was given it after a family friend died, and we learned the story of it over time. It’s a lovely birds-eye maple veneer and inlay, but at one point it had been painted black. That family friend’s sister started wondering what was under the paint and over time, uncovered the original wood. There are still traces of the black paint in places, but it’s just a sign of the piece’s history to us.