The Story of My Stuff

photo 4-2In terms of earthly goods, I am not a wealthy person.  As a matter of fact, I got most  of my furniture pieces as gifts many years ago or from thrift stores and Craigslist. However, over the years, they have meshed together to make my house my unique palace.  As I sit in my living room and look around, I remember the stories attached to each piece and suddenly they seem like valuable old friends.  As a founding member of the Byrd Family Memory Keepers, I know it’s my job to place them in the Family Museum where they can be looked upon as treasures to be admired and not just “some old stuff we used to have in the house.”    My story and life are entwined in these pieces of wood, glass and fabric.  To tell you the story of them, I tell the story of myself, my friends and family.

It was the summer of 1979 and Bill and I were getting married on the last Saturday of July.  Bill had just graduated from East Carolina University and had started his “real” job at Carolina Telephone and Telegraph Company.  It always amazed me that he got an engineering job with a philosophy degree.  I guess that was back when a college degree was a magic “calling card” that opened doors to employment.  Anyway, he had a job in the administration side of the company and starting pay was $11,500 a year.  With that and what I made as a church secretary, we were going to be rich!  I loved Bill, but a girl also marries a man for his potential.  His potential was already taking shape!photo 3-1

We got our first apartment a few months before we married.  Bill moved in first and we immediately started trying to put furniture in it.  He’d not worked long enough to pay cash for big ticket items and I didn’t make enough to pay for them either.

Luckily,  Bill’s earning potential got us credit at Davis Furniture Store in Rocky Mount, North Carolina and suddenly we were the owners of the fanciest cream colored couches I had ever sat upon and had the pleasure of owning!  Within the same week we also went shopping at Simmons Furniture Company in downtown Tarboro and bought pretty little solid cherry end tables with Queen Anne styled, cabriole legs and carved scallop embellishments on them.  Of course, I had to have matching brass lamps to sit on top of them.  We also purchased some framed Chinese prints.  I remember that it took me quite a while to make the decision on these purchases and Donald Morris (the salesperson who waited on us and a future Mayor of Tarboro)  was very patient with me!  It’s not every day that a girl gets to choose her first new living room “suite.”    To make me even happier, my brother Scot gave us a beautiful gilded gold mirror as a wedding gift from W.S. Clark and Sons Department Store (when they were still in the furniture business.) My brother had good taste!

I couldn’t wait to have them delivered to our new apartment and when the truck pulled up in front of our door, I was like a kid at Christmas.  Finally, I was getting a home of my own.  That night, as it became dark, we turned on our new lamps and walked back and forth on the side walk in front of our apartment.  “Look,”  I said in amazement to Bill.  “The lights are glowing from the windows. It looks like a home!”  I was already a “homebody.”

It was all coming together, but we were lacking something important; our dining room table. My grandparents pitched in proudly with their offering; a little kitchen table that they got when they were first married.  That was in 1928, which by the way was our first, home telephone number: 823-1928. Some things you never forget.

It was a humble little table, painted a tan/cream color.  I decided to strip it and bring it back to its former glory.  It wasn’t the prettiest wood and my grandmother told me it was painted when they got it.    Oh, well…I knew if I put some stain on it, the “uglies” would disappear.  What the stain didn’t cover, the place mats did!photo 1-3

Now, to find some chairs!  The table wasn’t very big and we needed four, small chairs.  This is when our friends, Victor Padgett and Lee Summerlin came to our rescue. These talented, creative guys owned a furniture company called Restoration Antiques.  They sold antiques but they also made antique reproductions.  We would spend many Saturday afternoons in their shop on Main Street in Tarboro, creating our wish list.

When they learned that we had a table but no chairs, they gave us a call.  “Hey, guys,” Victor said.  “Lee and I want to offer y’all some chairs to go with your table. They are a matching group of four, oak plank bottom chairs.  You can have them for $25.00 a piece.  They are actually worth much more than that but that will be our wedding present to you guys!”photo 2-1 photo 1-2

We couldn’t believe it!  We were getting chairs to match our table!  We went and picked them up the next day.  They were the perfect size.  It was like the prince putting on Cinderella’s lost shoe.  They fit!  After we loaded them into the car we thanked them and Victor said, “If you ever want to get rid of them, don’t give them away or sell them.  Let us buy them back from you.  It’s very rare to find a matching set of plank bottom chairs.  They’re well over a hundred years old.”

We took them back home and put them around our table and tried them out.  Old and rare, huh?  We felt like we could get into this “antique” stuff.  We set the table with the new china we had received as wedding gifts,  lit some candles and went outside to see what how our apartment looked.  It was looking full and homey as it glowed in the ivory candle light.

I can’t tell you about our bedroom.  Bill wouldn’t let me see it until our wedding day.  It was my surprise and he decorated it and found the furniture for it himself.  That was when he was romantic!

I look back on our first apartment now and I enjoy my memories. In July, Bill and I will celebrate our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary. We’ve lived in over thirty places within ten or so cities. Between all the years, the moves and six children, we’ve been through many living room,  dining room and bedroom suites.  After ten years, when we were moving away from New Orleans,  we gave our beautiful couches away to a ministry couple who had three children and very little else.  We still have the Chinese prints, the end tables (although now they are painted a cheery red to cover the scars,)  the beautiful gold mirror and my grandmother’s kitchen table.

We never sold the matching oak, plank bottom chairs.  They’ve received more wear and tear than any other pieces of furniture we’ve  owned and I dare not paint them.  As our family grew and the children got older,  the chairs became the “extra” chairs lining the dining room wall that the children’s friends would grab and pull up to the table when the regular dining chairs were full.  After years and years of fannies and bottoms sliding in and off of the seats, the metal snap on the back of their jean pockets wore groves into the famous planks.  I look at the deep scratches etched into the wood and I can only smile as I remember the good times we had sitting in the little chairs around a table, eating, talking about the day, settling family issues, making important decisions, writing songs and being creative. They are like winkles, showing age, wear and character.

The little oak chairs are on my back porch now, around an oak table Daddy got from a lady he worked with at Long Manufacturing Company.  Her name was Mildred and when she gave the pretty round table to Daddy,  she said it was as “old as the hills.” He later passed the table to me.  It’s even older now and it looks really nice with my scratched up chairs.  They are sitting there all alone  for now, waiting for our grandchildren and cousins to come and scratch them up some more.  At the Byrd Family Museum, wear and tear are allowed!photo 3

Here’s your song!  Hope you enjoy it as much as I did when I first heard it!  It was Dean Martin’s biggest hit and was number one on the charts for six weeks in 1956, the year I was conceived!  Whoops…Hope that wasn’t too much information!






5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. alabamapeggy
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 18:04:08

    Oh, Donna, I feel the same way about things. My home is filled with special pieces! A bench that my grandfather made for my daddy when he was born, a hoosier cabinet that belonged to Jack’s grandmother. He remembers, as a boy, crawling into the cupboard and hiding. Many of my things are handed down from family-a tin tray with kittens on it that my favorite aunt bought for me at a yard sale. I think of her every day because every morning I take coffee to the bedroom for Jack and me on that tray. old family photos that line our walls, needle-point pieces that were given to me, some by my daughter, Lesa; some by my cousin, some I made. The silver that belonged to Jack’s mother and father. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the idea. The most precious thing about these pieces is that each has a history, a story and I am reminded of their story every day! My favorite place to shop is at The Apple Barrel in Oxford in what I call “the white booth.” Most “new” pieces that I buy for the house come from there, each with a story that, although I don’t know, I can imagine. (Thank you for the song!)


  2. alabamapeggy
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 18:07:26

    I forgot to mention one of my favorite things: a swing that my grandfather had made for me when I married in 1964! Fifty years of swinging and remembering!


  3. themuseinme
    Aug 13, 2014 @ 03:24:16

    Peggy! I love your list of favorite things! They make a house a home and bring continuity to our lives! Yours sound so pretty. I bet your house looks like a one of the little shops I like to visit and get “lost a’ dreamin'” in. I want to come and sit in your special swing and let you point out your treasures to me while we sit and have tea served on your kitty cat tray. 🙂 Also, The Apple Barrel was one of my favorite dreamin’ stores. I loved the white booth too! I’ve been painting some pieces that remind of that booth. Sometimes I think I’d like to get a booth at one of the local antique malls around here. Then, I think, “sounds like work to me.”

    Thanks for sharing about your treasures! I felt like I was reading a blog. Maybe you should write one. I know it would be interesting, poetic and beautiful. You have so much to give and folks seem to enjoy the things you share. Think about it! Love you!


  4. Carolina Carol
    Aug 16, 2014 @ 18:05:53

    Finally sitting at my desk and catching up on some reading today. Just read your July post about “your stuff.” I share your attachment to the bits and pieces of my life. I would much rather have something passed along which carries with it an inherent story than something new which is without a tale. I love the things in our house that are connected to people and places that we have experienced and loved. Sure would like to catch up with you and Bill the next time you come as close as Tarboro. Give us a holler and let’s make a plan. Love to you both 🙂


    • themuseinme
      Aug 16, 2014 @ 23:44:02

      Thanks for reading, Carol. If anyone has a showplace to display their family treasures, it is you guys! Your home is the Shields’ Museum and you are a wonderful curator! I may write several more installments on “my stuff,” hoping that one day the kids can use the blog posts for referral notes when they go through our things after we’re dead and gone. For posterity’s sake, at least! 🙂 We were just talking about you and Jimmy the other night. Bill said his season will be slowing down in a few weeks and maybe we can take a weekend in September and go to Tarboro. He said when we do, hopefully we can make plans to see you guys! That would be so much fun! We’ll let you know when! Love to y’all too!


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