photo by Paul Mayer
BY KIMBERLY MAYER
When I moved west and married and had children, my parents figured I might not be coming back to New England afterall. Thus, when my grandparents died and their estate was divided, my parents shipped a beloved piece of furniture to me, a Philadelphia Highboy, in solid mahogany. It arrived in one piece. In my thank you note I enclosed a photograph that prompted my father to say, “You remind me of the old pioneers posing with their eastern possessions. The ones that made it out there.”
I would have had my arm around it if I could, but it’s a monstrous piece.
Since then we moved countless times, and in every house hunt one of my first considerations was always: where will we place the highboy? In dining rooms it held linens, tablecloths and such, ironed and folded. In a master bedroom or two it served admirably as my husband’s dresser—as he’s the only one tall enough to reach the highboy’s top drawers. Currently parked in our guest room, it’s my “wrap station” holding reams of grosgrain ribbon and rolls & rolls of gift wrap—its drawers are that broad.
This year a large silk rug from the same estate in Connecticut came to join us in the islands. What a tale this rug could tell, from Gram’s front parlor in Connecticut to its place today in a cedar shingle house in an old growth forest on the waterfront in the islands of the Puget Sound.
Threadbare and full of holes, I didn’t have to climb over any sisters to inherit this rug. But I treasure its vintage qualities. Indeed I have been known to flip over rugs that weren’t old enough, preferring their backsides. This one truly is, old enough.
I called my dad. I needed to tap his memory at 95 years of age as he grew up with this rug. It’s a little sketchy whether the rug had been in the dining room or the parlor, but dad and I decided to place it in the parlor. Either way, each room tells a different story, delectable or funereal.
Naturally we chose funereal.
Dark and overly wallpapered, high windows overly draped, it wasn’t that Gram’s front parlor was off limits to us. Not at all. It’s just that nothing seemed to happen in it. A grand piano displayed large silver framed photographs. Sadly, no one in the family played the piano. Victorian furniture lined the walls, upright and stiff with tufted upholstery and I can’t say I recall anyone ever sitting on any of it.
If this silk rug had been in that parlor, in my grandmother’s day and in her mother’s day, no one could have possibly appreciated its colors—a brilliant fuchsia field with a border of bright French Blue—as the parlor always seemed dark to me. No wonder. According to my dad, the room had once been used for lying in wakes, a common occurrence in an era when deaths were all the more common too.
On its last leg perhaps, the rug has come to light. Northwest light. It is safe with me. No one is going to trip on its holes—as this rug will never know heels. Moccasins have become me, and all our friends wear comfortable shoes. One day we may have to worry about babies learning to walk in our living room, but then I can cut it into massive vintage pillows, and upholster a bench or two. I will see that this rug lives forever.
A woman on island, Mary Walley Kalbert, recently wrote a novel around kilim rugs. In Stone the Goat, women’s strength and resilience is reveled through the dyeing and weaving and the stories their rugs tell. I figured if she could do that, I could write a simple blog post about a rug. While Mary Kalbert’s tale takes you on a journey with a nomadic tribe to the yayla, a high plateau in the Taurus Mountains of Turkey, I only brought you into a Colonial front parlor.
And what could possibly come of it? In Mary Kalbert’s case, a beautiful novel. In my case, after peering into the parlor with my dad, revisiting the home of his childhood, he declared yesterday, “I’d like to learn to play the piano.”
Turns out, it’s always been on his to do list.