Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Oak Wardrobe - Part 1

My maternal grandparents moved around a fair bit in the early years of their marriage. He was an agricultural rep and she was a home economist. They moved from town to town and traveled throughout the Canadian prairies teaching farming and homemaking techniques. When my mom was young, they lived in the town where she met and married my father. My mom’s sister also settled in that town and a brother eventually settled in Winnipeg. So, in 1956 when my grandparents decided to retire and set down more permanent roots, they moved back to the town where my mom and aunt lived. That kept them close to three of their four children and most of the grandkids. The other son and his family lived in Quebec but they visited back and forth whenever possible.

My grandparents bought a house in town – coincidently right next door to the one they had lived in back in the late 1930’s and early1940’s and where my parents were wed. The house was larger than they needed so my grandpa converted the upstairs to a self contained apartment that they could rent for a bit of extra income. This, of course was a rather old house – the kind of house that had little closet space - so storage was always an issue despite a fair bit of space. My grandpa was quite a handyman, so he built a wall of floor to ceiling cupboards for his and grandma’s bedroom on the main floor. He also built kitchen cabinets for the small galley style kitchen.

Now this town was also along a river that had a nasty habit of flooding on a rather regular basis in the spring. Parts of the town always seemed to be flooded every time, but the people would band together and work to clean and restore as much as possible. The church that my grandparents were active in was part of that low area near the river – as was their house.

One of those floods – no one remembers which one now - somewhere between 1956 and about 1967, there was a flood that caused the basement of the church to be flooded. My grandfather was helping with the cleanup. Some items were saved and others were deemed beyond recovering and were to be thrown out. Among the items to be thrown out was an old oak wardrobe.

The wardrobe was large at 80” high, 44” wide and 18” deep, but wasn’t ornate. It had two doors with a simple knob to open the panel on the right side. The left side was held shut by a hook and latch at the bottom on the inside. There was a rod inside for hanging clothes. There was enough space from the rod to the floor to hang full length dresses or coats. Under the closet section of the wardrobe, was one large drawer that ran almost the width of the cupboard. There was plenty of room for storage in this old wardrobe.

It had been through the flood and was not in great shape. No one thought it was worth saving.

My grandfather thought otherwise and offered to donate $10 to the church for the wardrobe. That was a lot in those days and the donation was gratefully accepted. With the assistance of another church member, my grandfather took the flood weary wardrobe back to his house about a block or so away. Over the next few weeks, my grandpa cleaned up the wardrobe as best he could. What he found, was a well made, sturdy piece of functional furniture that still had many years ahead of it if it were cared for. He and my grandmother decided to paint it an off-white with a speckled effect (popular at the time) and put it in the apartment on the second floor.

Both my mother and I fell in love with this wardrobe and said that we would eventually like to have it. My grandfather died in 1970 and my grandmother continued to rent the suite upstairs for several more years.

A few years after grandpa died, one of the tenants took it upon herself to strip and restore the wardrobe to the bare wood – without obtaining consent! My grandmother was unaware of this as she rarely went up to the suite. She only learned of the misdeed when the tenant gave notice to move and asked if she could buy the wardrobe!

Grandma was livid! How dare someone do something like that without consulting the owner! She made it very clear to the tenant that the wardrobe was NOT for sale at any price as it was now a family heirloom and would be passed down within the family. Family members had already spoken for it many years ago. The tenant was not happy but had no further right to pursue the matter. Like I said, grandma was furious but mom and I assured her that we were THRILLED! We had planned on eventually stripping it when grandma passed it to us so were glad we didn’t have to do it! Besides, the tenant had done a wonderful job!

Well, my grandma only had a couple of tenants after that before she had it moved downstairs to her part of the house. She moved to a seniors home in 1981 and the house was eventually sold.


Next Post: The Oak Wardrobe (Part 2)

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