Presidents Day

by Laura

Since today, 20 February, is neither Lincoln’s birthday (12 February 1809) nor Washington’s birthday (22 February 1732), I’ve purposed to leave off the apostrophe in the title of today’s post. Today doesn’t so much belong to either of those men as much as it’s an amalgam of remembrance, positioned to give some folk a three-day weekend. And retailers an excuse to lower their artificially inflated prices. :sigh: Yeah, I’m kinda in a mood…

Anyway. I’m sitting here in my chair, looking across at this beautiful old cherry corner cupboard we bought back in 2001. It’s from Pennsylvania and it was built in the 1830s. 1834, if I remember correctly. It still has it’s original glass, which is a bit wavy, so the collection of old chinaware I have stored inside looks a little distorted. But isn’t that how it would have looked when it was newly built, back in the day? Handblown glass isn’t the same as what we get today. It is hardly perfect, thank goodness! and has personality and style to it.  The corner cupboard is really a very simple piece; no extra frills or carvings, nothing extraneous about its construction; almost Shaker in its design, with a gently carved apron…and therein lies its innate elegance.

So why am I thinking about this? A lot has happened since this piece was built. Washington was long gone (although not forgotten, and the cherry wood reminds me of that cherry tree story) when my cupboard was built. Lincoln was in his 20s, living in New Salem, Illinois, having been and gone to New Orleans, sowing the seeds of his still-nascent political career. In the countries of my forebears, political upheaval was pretty much the norm. Victoria became Queen in 1837, and then workhouses become necessary given the British Poor Law of 1838. My 3rd Great-Grandparents, Thomas Gaffney and Honora Kelley of County Laois, Ireland, married in 1825 and were having children in the 1830s, my 2nd Great-Grandfather, Patrick being one of them. John McManus and Catherine McBride, my 3rd Great-Grandparents on my maternal tree, were both born in County Fermanagh in 1812.  They, too, were starting their family in the mid-1830s there in County Fermanagh, but my direct forebear wouldn’t arrive until the mid-1840s. So that’s four out of my 32 3rd-Greats, all whom I know by name, who were living at the same time my cherry corner cupboard was being built.

It’s amazing to me to gaze at this piece of furniture, here in my house, and to put it into that sort of context…then to imagine Lincoln as a young adventurer in his 20s, poling  on a flatboat down the Sangamon River with some friends, also within this same timeframe. There is a lot going on in my thoughts: The juxtaposition of Illinois not being all that civilised, compared to Pennsylvania, having gained statehood just 16 years before this lovely piece of furniture was built. The cupboard itself built to a fairly high degree of design and sophistication, and with the structural integrity to last 183 years. My 32 3rd-Greats, marrying and childbearing, under such difficult conditions in Ireland and Scotland at a time of political and industrial and religious change, and the Great Hunger lurking around the corner, so to speak. This sort of day-dreaming, of imagining, makes history real and tangible for me. It’s a sort of “This was here, in the world when…” long before was here, in the world, when. Yet it serves to connect the dots, add up the pieces, focus out to show something of the whole, the big picture. It makes today’s news a little more bearable, a little less urgent.

I have other, older pieces of furniture that I like to think about; books, textiles, pieces of ceramic. I like things that transcend time and space which connect me to past people, forgotten times, and serve to put me within the larger context; help me to remember that this, too, passes on and nothing and no one lasts forever. Except, perhaps, my cherry corner cupboard.

Dinna fash, darlin’.