The New Textiles Part Four, or, Defining Antiques in 1958

The Lamp in 2012

The Lamp in 2012, Sadder but Perhaps Wiser

Before I leave Doris and Iggy I must say that they can spot a phony antique a mile away. There is not a thing in their house that is not genuine 100% early American of museum quality and Iggy’s barn is full of old lumber, old nails, old anything which he is only too happy to give to anyone to help in the proper restoration of an old house.

This dedication to the genuine conflicts in a certain area of my life with another lover of antiques. Evie, my cleaning woman, who has adopted me as surely as Doris and Iggy have adopted my house, loves antiques with a passion as keen as theirs but her concept of the term does not coincide with theirs. Anything whose usefulness has been outgrown is an antique and obviously all that is necessary is to make it into something else.

I should have been on my guard immediately that day when Evie came to work just absolutely bursting with enthusiasm and a secret. But she frequently bursts with enthusiasm and it’s apparent a secret can’t stay a secret long. This was in January or February and she had found the most marvelous thing for my next Christmas present. it was beautiful. There was only one other in town. (She had it.) I’d be the envy of all. It was just perfect for my house — a real genuine 100% antique. Only it needed some fixing. All day, off and on, she would burst into lyrical praise of this “find” of hers and how happy I was going to be. Obviously I should have said right then and there: “I don’t want it. You mustn’t give me presents” etc. But, since she had begged it from someone, expressly for me, I didn’t take the thing too seriously. Two weeks later on her next day she was still exuding only she hadn’t found a place to get it fixed. Not knowing what it was, I could be of no help. When two weeks later she was no farther along toward the fulfillment of her dream, she had to take me into her confidence. This had all been rather amusing up to this point — Christmas was a long time away. It didn’t seem that much money was involved and I naturally look on the bright side of things. Evie, expecting me to clap my hands with joy and throw my arms around her neck, told me she’d found a real antique telephone upright table model circa 1925 and she was going to have it made into a lamp for me. I made feeble little noises, trying to mask my horror, –“how wonderful Evie” — “but you really mustn’t – it will cost a lot of money”. After this ineffective attack, I drew my trump card. I didn’t know where she could get it done. She took that trick, without even trying, with the question: “Where did you get that done?” A family heirloom vase that had had the same operation. She had witnessed it. I had to tell her; there was no way out but the hope “Harlan will find a way to get me out of this; he handles these situations so well”. Evie was going on about how wonderful it would look right there next to my 18th century fireplace.

Harlan tried to help. He suggested I just tell Evie my husband won’t let me accept gratuities. That probably sounds fine in a bank. In the kitchen it’s ridiculous. I told Evie and she burst out crying. I won’t worry you with the emotional upheaval this caused. But being unsuited by birth and education to emotional upheavals, I capitulated as usual and said I would love it and she was a darling etc. Then I began to worry that she wouldn’t be able to wait until Christmas and how right I was. Another two weeks and Evie reported it was in its reformer’s hands and would soon be ready.

One bright day the telephone rang cheerily. It was Evie in tears. Absolutely crushed, completely unable to go to work that day. Her uncle had gone to pick up the telephone lamp and had left it in the car and it had been stolen. It seemed too good to be true but I tried to sound crushed, only not too crushed, and then I wrote her a note, a very nice note and I hoped it had a feeling of finality about the whole affair that would discourage further such efforts.

Quite a trick. I was very proud of that note — talked fondly about it to Harlan who was tremendously relieved to hear of the fate of the telephone but was unimpressed with the note. I should have made it very strong that she was never to do such a thing again.

As usual, he was right. In a very sneaky way Evie got her hands on another phone. I was not to be cheated out of my present. Only this time I was delegated to pick it up at the lamp place. I told them there what I thought of the monstrosity and relieved myself only slightly. Evie had been fascinated by that place. They will make a lamp out of anything. If you have any old coffee grinders, Civil War rifles, pot belly stoves or garbage cans around just take them there and come home with a new lamp. My particular model is very tricky. To turn on the light you just take the receiver off the hook. The sight of this makes my husband edgy. He can’t stand to see the receiver off the hook and nobody going to answer it. Well, I was on the hook and how to keep the thing hidden from Doris and Iggy and others like them and still keep it out when Evie came in — which could be anytime — was a problem. She was so happy because it was available for the tour — the Garden Club one. I hid it for the occasion and spent the day in fear and trembling that Evie would show up to gloat over the expressions of wonder occasioned by her gift.

How wonderful the lessons life teaches us. One of these gleaned from this experience is that results of calamities are frequently not as horrible as expected and you can live with and get quite used to most anything.

I am stuck with Evie. There is no chance of my ever being able to sever the connection unless she gets married and that’s not likely. Evie is just my age, strong and willing. My house resounds with shouts and laughter on cleaning day. Our relationship is very informal and nobody laughs at my jokes as satisfactorily as she does. By the time a working day is over, I feel very witty and quite pleased with myself. We have all had a good time.

The first day Evie came to work for me I was on the third floor and she was told to go up there to find me. She came shouting up the stairs in quite colorful language which I will not repeat – “This is the closest to Heaven I ever got”! Before she could start working she had to know my first name and I’ve been Dot ever since. Harlan is “sweety” but he usually gets out of the house first. One that first day Evie said she could do anything. “I’ll dig your graves and bury your dead” she shouted and, while that has never been required, she has tackled some pretty unusual jobs. I think and hope her gift giving days are over for a while. She recently had an automobile accident which smashed her car completely so she will be very occupied paying for a new one. Since she wasn’t killed in that accident she felt she owed “the guy upstairs” a church attendance. So she broke a life long habit and joined me Easter morning for church looking very respectable and really quite impressive.

end part 4 – but there’s more to come!

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About skgriswold

My love of history and art was nurtured by living in a wonderful significant historical house for much of my life.
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