Sturdy furniture serves many generations

November 23, 1997|By Jacques Kelly

MY SISTER ANN issued a semi-urgent call. She needed furniture pronto, because come February she expects to deliver twins.

The new arrivals will join her 2-year-old son, Paul, and husband, Chris, in a home that is rapidly being expanded to hold this happily enlarging brood.

There's always a note of financial practicality in the way my family operates. Usable family possessions get passed down, used and passed down again.

This arrangement means we don't throw much away. Take the furniture my sister had her eye on. It was the set my grandmother Lily Rose, and her husband, Edward Jacques -- ever Pop Monaghan to his six grandchildren -- had during the 47 years of their marriage.

Saturday a week ago, my sister, her husband and son arrived at the old family house on Guilford Avenue. We made a little party of the day. My father had homemade beef stew ready on the kitchen stove. I supplied a cheesecake and cider from the Waverly Farmers Market. We were finishing off lunch when the doorbell rang. It was Skeeter, the neighborhood handyman, who arrived to help with the hauling.

Soon the bed, its side rails, slats, foot and headboard were on the truck. They decided to take the big dresser, too, but passed on the vanity table where my grandmother tressed her Gibson Girl locks every morning and evening.

"Maybe if we find the room in the new addition, we'll take it next time," my sister told me.

That bedroom set, bought in 1916, looks like the way you might expect 80-year-old bedroom chattels to look. It's mahogany, heavy and will never win a prize for its stylishness -- although I did note a curious similarity in design and construction to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt's bedroom furniture as preserved Hyde Park when I visited that museum.

The big old bed, with its high footboard and even higher headboard, is a work of solid cabinet making, even if it has a thick-as-molasses finish that my grandmother insisted on buffing weekly with gummy paste wax.

That set certainly was strong. It withstood the battering that I and my five siblings delivered to the bed, which made an excellent trampoline. I think that we broke just about every bed in the house (the slats were always vulnerable), but this one never surrendered to the torture. And because we were their grandchildren, Lily Rose and Pop never objected.

My grandparents had but one set of furniture in their lives. And when it was time for St. Peter to call, he summoned them -- him in 1963, her in 1970 -- from the room where that dark mahogany furniture rested.

Because we rarely throw anything away, the bed, its dressers (one for my grandmother, one for her husband), the vanity table and its seat, remained. So did a 1916 letter that shed some light on the suite's origins.

It was written in the elegant hand of one Edward A. Monaghan, my great-great uncle, on the occasion of the wedding of my grandfather, his nephew.

Uncle Ed, president of the Lock Haven, Pa., bank, was writing to congratulate my grandfather. Uncle Ed also enclosed a fat check, a portion of which went for that set of furniture.

Now, the Irish believe in coincidences other people might rationalize away. On the very day that Uncle Ed's gift was lifted on the U-Haul to serve yet another generation of the extended Monaghan family, it rained.

Not only did it rain, but my roof started leaking and dripped into my guest room. And there, on a stack of materials I'd set out to mail to my Pennsylvania cousins, was a picture of Uncle Ed, the bedroom suite's donor.

The water hit this bachelor gentleman's likeness squarely. It doused his locks and spotted his celluloid collar. It clouded his angelic pose and left the whole sepia-tone image covered in water blots.

His furniture, I'm happy to report, arrived at its new home in much better condition.

Pub Date: 11/23/97

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