by Libby Sternberg
I have many cousins, but most live far away. One, however, is but a half hour’s drive from us, and it is a great joy to see Bill regularly for barbecues, family dinners and more. He has a mischievous sense of humor that translates into creative rule-making during summertime games of croquet (“Everyone with a hat on gets an extra turn!”), and he always brings…door prizes.
A flea market aficionado, he brings a box or two of his finds to gatherings. After the meal, we’ll play a game — croquet if the weather’s good, Bananagrams or charades for other days — and door prizes are won by the victors. Or sometimes by the vanquished. Depends on the prize–one of our rules is that you can either choose a prize for yourself or bestow one on another guest. Bill’s one rule is: If you discover the prize has value, don’t tell him.
I treasure my wins, which include a domed cheese dish, a rectangular serving plate I use often, a decorative bowl, several spectacular vases (one of green glass, the other blue) and a few candlestick holders.
Contemplating these wins made me realize how much of my household is decorated with hand-me-downs. I’d say a good 80 to 90 percent of each room is furnished with pieces given to us by family members, from the gorgeous Belgian rugs in living and dining rooms to the end tables in the family room, to the headboard and bedframe in our bedroom. Of the few pieces of furniture we’ve purchased on our own, several have come from a consignment store where I love to shop.
I enjoy using found pieces outside, as well. On our front porch sits a rocking chair a neighbor was giving away for free (I took it and repainted it), along with a big old plastic flower pot my middle son had used in his college apartment for a bamboo plant. I use it for flowers; its, well, cheesiness, is somewhat obscured when viewed from the road. I’ve used flagstones and bricks found on our property for pathways, too.
Early in our marriage, I felt acutely the challenge of not having enough money to adequately decorate. But now that we can afford to buy pieces, I find myself cherishing the used items that have come our way, and I think I’ve done a good job of integrating the pieces into a pleasing decor. In fact, I feel a little bit guilty buying new things when so many wonderful used pieces are on the market.
Now, when I look at the barrel-back chair in our living room, I remember crawling into it as a child, seeing it as the sheltering symbol of unconditional parental love. When I view our love seat and piano, I think of my very special mother-in-law. When we gather around our dining room table, I remember sitting at that table as a newlywed when my in-laws lived outside of DC.
Each piece tells a story. If I had all the money in the world to redecorate, I’d probably keep things as they are.
Libby Sternberg is a novelist. TGIW=Thank God It’s Wednesday.