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  • Writer's pictureTina

Preserving Family History

We knew it was something special when we took over the family farm. It meant that we would rear our daughter on the land and in the place where my dad had some of his best memories. It meant we would carry on a tradition of stewardship for land that belonged to my grandfather and my father. Along with the farm came Miss Kitty, the genetically challenged barn cat. We also inherited Badger, the Great Pyrenees, which was beloved by the neighborhood. We became the stewards of a large flock of bantam chickens and a flock of geese. These were all wonderful additions to our family, and we have enjoyed making them part of our lives. However, after sixty years, give or take, of family stewardship, one also acquires a lot of “stuff.”

If you walk the treeline surrounding the fields of our farm, you will find an area that appears to be the old dumping ground for all things unwanted or past their life of usefulness. There is an old truck, a wagon, and rusted-out watering troughs slowly turning to dust. The forest has gradually taken over these discarded articles. Now, a tree grows through an old broken windshield. Brambles grow over, through, and around old tire rims. Wild critters have made a home in old, torn car seats. I contemplate having all the junk removed, but part of me appreciates the relics of those who came before me.

When my dad bought the farm in the mid-nineties, it looked sad and neglected. The farm had been used as a rental for more than thirty years. The owner put as little money and effort into maintaining the place as possible. There were several outbuildings, all in disrepair. The pond had filled with silt and been overrun with cattails. The pond was little more than an oversized mud puddle. The fencing was a hodgepodge of smooth and barbed wire; some were attached directly to trees. The land and fields had become overrun with what my dad called “pecker brush.” It was a bit overwhelming. Everywhere we looked, there was a major project.

The first thing my dad did was save the barn. He then worked his way up the lane tearing down a dilapidated corn crib that sat at the left corner coming into the lane. Next to be dismantled was the “old bus garage.” My grandfather had driven school buses for the local district and had built a pole barn to house the buses. By the time we moved in, most of the roof had been blown off, the metal siding had rusted away, and large sections of the walls had been destroyed. Trees and more wild brush had taken over the building and its contents. A huge blackberry bush had taken over one side of the building. It spanned the entire building length and went from the ground to the roof. I hated to see that go, but it was impossible to save.

My dad saved one item from the old bus garage: a broken-down chest of drawers. The dresser has a curved front, lion claw feet, and antique brass hardware. Its veneer was peeling away, and it was missing a curved, ornate top drawer. To someone unfamiliar with the history of the place, it looked like a piece of junk. However, my dad knew the origins and history of this sad little chest of drawers and chose to save it.

When my dad was a boy, his grandfather on his mother’s side moved in with the family after he was widowed and had gotten older. One of the few possessions he brought with him was his wife’s antique chest of drawers. Eventually, Grandpa Ray passed away, and his worldly possessions were discarded or put into storage. The chest of drawers was one of the few things that belonged to her mother that my Grandma Tillie could keep. Thank goodness my dad did not burn that old dresser while clearing out junk and debris.

My dad always had the intention of having the old chest of drawers restored. However, as with many things in life, time got away from him. Other projects took precedence, and the old chest of drawers got moved into the now-restored barn, where it has sat untouched for another thirty years. When I see that old dresser sitting alone and melancholy at the top of the barn, it is a reminder that my dad’s life was cut short, and he didn’t get to complete all the projects he wanted to see through to the end.

That old dresser is at the top of my priority list for my fiftieth year. One of the items on my fifty fun things list is to find someone who can restore that old dresser for me. If the dresser had not belonged to my Grandma Tille, my great-grandmother, and her mother before her, I would probably consider it a lost cause. However, how many people can say they are in possession of something that belonged to their great-great-grandmother? Finding someone to restore this piece of family history feels daunting. I will have to find someone with the ability and artistry to create a curved drawer. I’m sure some parts will need to be replaced, and many will need to be restored. To my untrained eye, it looks like a very complex project. It will be a labor of love for sure.

I hope to have this piece of family history restored to mark my fiftieth trip around the sun. I also hope my bean will someday appreciate the significance of this piece and keep it to pass down to her children. In the meantime, I need to find someone willing to take on this task. Once restored, I know exactly where I will put my restored family heirloom. It will go in our downstairs bath, which has a restored clawfoot tub and character sink. I can visualize the restored chest of drawers, and it will be lovely.

On this stormy January day, stay safe, be smart, save what pieces of history you can, and keep washing your hands.

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I like that you are going to restore it. So many made things get discarded. When made correctly they can be used by generations. Looking forward to seeing the finished results before year 16.

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