Underneath the Paint and the Tarnish

By Rose Ann Sinay

Underneath the Paint and the Tarnish

My parents were collectors. They went to auctions, flea markets, garage sales and church fairs and never came home empty handed. They knew about storage auctions decades before the TV show Storage Wars made bidding on

abandoned lots an exciting, cut-throat pastime. I rarely went on these expeditions with them. Their enjoyment of these adventures was a mystery to me. Why would you want something old and used when you could go to the store and buy it brand spanking new?

My mom exclaimed with delight over boxes containing carnival glass vases, and pictures of birds and flowers in cracked, wooden frames. Porcelain figurines, silverware (black with tarnish), rickety antique desks and an assortment of odd chairs in need of re-caning, refinishing, repairing (or all the above) populated our house. Old books lined our walls – some library discards, some inscribed with sentimental messages and dated to preserve a special moment.

When I dismissed all of the items as old, musty and broken, my mother corrected me, saying the items had passed the test of time, and that they didn’t make things the way they used to. Personally, I thought buying new was far superior to paying good money for those boxes of junk. I often shook my head and dreamed of the day I would furnish my own home in pristine, modern furniture.

Mom kept busy transforming the chest full of blackened spoons into tiny, polished mirrors. She learned how to weave reed into the seat-less chairs. She stripped and oiled an old rocker and was pleased that it continued to look aged and original. I would have painted it a glossy black and set a chrome and glass table next to it.

Years later, when my husband and I were first married, our apartment was filled with some of those refurbished hand me downs. My vision of Home Beautiful was reduced to using cinder blocks (painted black) and wood boards for a shelving, with yard sale items filling the spaces between our “heirlooms.” Eventually, as we could afford it, the yard sale items were replaced with show room furniture purchased at local stores. I was happy with our new decor, but I couldn’t make myself get rid of those old pieces.

As much as I didn’t want to admit it, our second hand possessions were more than just chairs and tables. They were a part of me and a part of my family. Every time I looked at the lamp table and the vintage head board, I remembered the time and effort put into removing the thick layers of paint to reveal a natural, wood grain beauty. I recall the smell of paint remover, the ever growing pile of sandpaper squares, and my mother’s abraded fingertips. We stored the furniture and took it with us wherever we moved.

Children, cats, dogs and many years raced by. Our new furniture no longer looked new – it didn’t look old – it just didn’t have that special patina of time that my parents’ recycled antiques possessed. Piece by piece, our “modern” furnishings were handed down to our children to use in their first apartments. Later, the scratched and dented items ended up on the sidewalks of the city to be snatched up by strangers.

Now in our retirement, we are fortunate enough to have a second house – a home away from home in the country with five acres and all the hunting and fishing my husband can pack into our monthly visits. The house needs some updates and our personal touch to make it truly ours. We decided to furnish it slowly, only buying pieces that truly speak to us. We frequent estate sales, antique shops and consignment stores. We find old stuff that could never be found at Ethan Allen or Rooms To Go. These treasures come with tiny cracks, signs of wear and a loose hinge or two.

On one of our treasure hunts, a 1920s spinet desk, with a hairline crack running down the length of its leg, whispered in my ear that it would provide the perfect workspace to finish the book I’ve been working on (forever). I’ve discovered all its little cubbies and hidden drawers, and I can imagine all the delicious secrets that they hold.

My most recent purchase, a coffee table in the shape of a book, has a leather bound top with gold leaf stenciling along the edge and spine. It sits atop a pair of thick, carved legs crossed in an X. It was love at first sight. The owner of the antique shop told us the table had belonged to the grandfather of an 85 year old gentleman. My heart raced a bit as I tried to “guesstimate” an age. They must have been writers, I think; obsessive readers at the very least.

I am always on the lookout for special pieces to artfully grace the top of my table, and I was thrilled when I found a 1903 Underwood No. 5 typewriter in a consignment shop not five miles from our Shangri-La. I carefully placed it on my “book” table, repositioning it over and over again until it looked just right. It took considerable restraint not to insert a piece of paper under the old, rubber roller and type a first line.

But for now, I’ll just sit in my old chair (the woven seat has held fast for all these years) and appreciate my surroundings. Everywhere I look I see a story – a life polished and renewed. I finally understand what my mother saw as she gazed into the reflective bowls of her shiny spoons, and I am content. My home has a soul; in fact, it has many souls gathered together in one place to celebrate the passage of time.

About this writer

  • Rose Ann Sinay Rose Ann Sinay is a freelance writer typing away in sunny North Carolina. Her articles/stories have been published in The Carolinas Today, The Oddville Press and The Brunswick Beacon.

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7 Responses to “Underneath the Paint and the Tarnish”

  1. Britt Sinay says:

    I so agree with the philosophy behind this essay. the old articles surrounding me remind of people long gone or memories of events . This makes a home, not the display window of a furniture store. Great piece!

    • Rose Ann Sinay says:

      Thanks, Britt! It is amazing how we can feel the presence of someone in the things they loved.

  2. Betsy Bergstrom says:

    Another great story. You always take us on a visit or road trip down memory lane. I can never wait to read the next article.

  3. Judy Vasile says:

    Yes, another great story! I can picture you searching the out-of-the-way places in the area surrounding your new “Shangri-La” and then having Mr. Fixit put the necessary finishing touches to it. Looking forward to the next story.

    • Rose Ann Sinay says:

      My Mr. Fix it needs more credit. I have the easy part. He makes it all happen! Thanks for reading and commenting, Judy:)

  4. Tammy Rohlf says:

    I too always thought that when I had my own house I would furnish it with new furniture and never have what my parents called antiques! Now I laugh as I look around and see that my favorite pieces are the ones that have all the history attached to it as well as all the knicks that comes with time.

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