Household `museums' contain treasure for expanding family

Basement baubles: The time comes to share the wealth of an `antiques IKEA' with family.

November 06, 1999|By Jacques Kelly

THE DOORBELL rang a few Saturdays ago to signal the arrival of my sister, Ann, her husband, Chris, and their son, Paul. They had driven up from their home in Sussex County in southern Delaware.

They are the only part of my family not living in Baltimore. It's also the most expanding section of the Kellys.

My sister's twin girls are 21 months old and ready to make the jump from cribs to their own beds. My nephew is 4.

Ann is a practical person. She needed more furniture -- and her Baltimore relatives reside in what amount to household museums.

My father volunteered a chest of drawers that were my grandparents' wedding furniture. Great great Uncle Edward Monaghan, a bachelor who lived in Lock Haven, Pa., wrote a generous check back in 1916 when they married.

It outfitted the bedroom in strong mahogany, not terribly fashionable today but indestructible to a young family.

I know it's sturdy. As the first grandchild, I was always permitted to use their bed as a trampoline. So did my brother and four sisters. It never broke.

A few years ago my sister wisely claimed the bed (then stored in the cellar) and one of the chests of drawers. This time she returned for the bureau and its mirror, much stained from years of my grandfather's cigar smoke.

Hours of phone calls went back and forth regarding this move. Would the bureau fit down the curving steps of the old Guilford Avenue home's staircase? Were the bolts corroded that held the mirror? Could they get the thing apart? Would there be enough strong backs present to make the haul? After all, there are 14 steps to the street once you get out the front door.

All the talk put me in the mood. Early in October I descended into my own cellar. If Lily Rose and Pop's furniture was being put to good, living use, why shouldn't I volunteer some of my own stored treasure?

Wasn't my sister Mimi volun- teering her some twin beds from her husband's side of the family?

Do we really need to keep an inventory worthy of an antiques IKEA?

I walked down the cellar steps of my own house and started opening boxes. There were the stored memories of my childhood -- the Lionel trains, the little metal bridge my Uncle Jack made for my 1951 Christmas garden, the insulated A&P ice cream box bag full of miniature green bushes.

On the spot, I decided it needed to leave my control and juris- diction. There was no point to warehousing a stored and locked supply of potential fun in the basement.

Within the next few hours, I liberated the wooden barn my uncle had made for me about 1954. I thought my twin nieces might like to play with its trap doors and hay window and have as much fun as I did 40-some years ago. And while I was at it, they deserved all the cows, horses -- and polar bears -- that went along with it.

And wouldn't their brother like the silver Baltimore & Ohio Railroad cars that speed around the train track? But, if I was going to give that up, he'd need a new transformer too. So the black electric power unit went in the giving pile too. Lamp posts, crossing gates, the little red house with the man who swung a lantern disappeared too.

Before I knew it, an electric horse car went too, along with a dozen box cars and the odd caboose.

Then I decided that some of my train pictures -- the ones my parents had framed for me so many years ago -- would serve a better use at a different address.

When my sister arrived, I gulped with a little bit of donor's regret. There was a ton of stuff sitting in the front hall. I even threw in a striped engineer's cap, which my nephew immediately glued to his head.

Then came, on a happy cue, the sign that it was a great idea to pass all these worldly chattels along.

I heard a distant rumble as my brother-in-law started to load the truck. It was the real CSX railroad, which passes under St. Paul Street about 100 feet south of my home. My nephew and I took off.

Three engines came puffing up the 26th Street grade, sending up a cloud of gray diesel smoke worthy of the Burning of Rome. My nephew went wild as a long, long coal train rumbled through. So did his uncle.

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