by Heather Lloyd
Before my mother passed away in 2012, I would say my style of home furnishing was fairly functional. I liked wood furniture and always preferred unusual over mainstream. Today however, I would say that I am a big fan of what I think of as “homespun heirloom.” It really intrigues me to see old things showcased or repurposed in unusual ways. Things like the old tin cowboy lunch box I mounted on the living room wall, beside a shadow box set with my father’s boyhood slingshot, a tiny canister of waterproof matches, a scrap of speaker screen from the old family radio I had refurbished, and a homemade duck-call fashioned from two pieces of wood and a couple of now-brittle elastics. I guess I just love to be surrounded by things that remind me of my family and my childhood – reminders of where I come from. Lisa understands this, and has created some pieces that I not only think of as art, but as heirlooms that I cherish and will one day pass on to my children.Of all the items I wanted Lisa to salvage, probably the strangest were a couple of dented, rusty TV trays circa 1970, which were encrusted with fossilized proof that not all food rots and disintegrates over time. They were just awful looking — laughably so. The thing is, I really liked the memories they stirred when I looked at them. So they had to stay…
“Dad’s gone — quick bring out the TV trays!”Every year my father would leave my mother alone with us, while he travelled to the family cabin in Nova Scotia for two weeks of deer hunting with relatives. For those two weeks, my mother was the boss, and IT. WAS. AWESOME! While my father was away, our house devolved into a state of semi-lawlessness, where bedtimes, curfews and mandatory scheduling for homework and even bathing went out the window. Arguments between my brother and I were settled the old-fashioned way, but away from the gentle eyes of our peace-loving mother. She would let us sleep on the pull-out couch in the living room, and stay up late watching whatever program we could get on the house’s small, four-channelled television. Best of all? For those two weeks, she had total control over what was purchased during the weekly trips to the grocery store. That meant we had a say in what got purchased. This was a big deal for kids that were raised on granola and wheat germ before these things were cool. We had a massive backyard garden that supplied our table, from fresh to frozen, year-round. Food bought at the grocery store had to have significant nutritional value in it to be worth purchasing when my father was driving the cart (which was most of the time), so us kids could only gaze mournfully at the bounty of colourfully boxed goodness displayed on the lower shelves of the ‘fun food’ aisles. Thankfully, my mother had as much of a sweet tooth as we did. So for those two weeks when dad was away and mom held the cash, we got to buy sugar cereal, cookies that did not have dates or fruit in them (to this day I still vehemently maintain that fruit has no business in cookies), store-bought icing (it would be eaten out of the container as communal dessert), meat and cheese that came in squeezable tubes, and the illicit, beloved, TV dinners.In a time before take out menus were such common place, before microwave ovens were fixtures in almost every home, we coveted those foil tray dinners that got heated in conventional ovens. It wasn’t that they tasted good enough to be worth the hour it took to cook them – in fact I can’t even remember what they tasted like. In our house, my little brother and I loved those dinners because when we had them, my mother let us eat on TV trays in front of the television. This was a privilege otherwise reserved for when overflow seating was required at big family celebrations. My brother and I were the youngest two in the family by far, and by the time we found ourselves of an age to really appreciate the freedoms afforded by my father’s absence, my elder siblings had already all moved out of the house.
My father was a retired military man, and as might be expected, discipline and strict adherence to rules were cornerstones to his parenting style. My mother was his counter-balance, being the most relaxed, unflappable person I have ever known. I believe she enjoyed the time when my father was away as much as we did, and saw it as a break from the usual routine. My mother had this innate understanding of children, and we always felt very connected to her. I think it is because she herself never stopped enjoying the simple pleasures of childhood. She could appreciate the small things in a way that most adults can only reminisce about. She would colour with me for hours, help my brother sort marbles and play cars, and she would laugh as hard as we did at the kiddie cartoons we watched. She took as much pleasure as we did in the freedom from curfews and vegetables at dinner, and she enjoyed granting us the occasional ‘hooky day’ from school. But for all the latitude our mother allowed, we never overstepped or tried to push her limit. My brother and I inherently knew that her gentle ways were to be protected and respected. Neither of us would risk ruining the magic that we shared, especially during those two weeks. We were comrades, the three of us, in my father’s absence.Just before my father returned home each year, we would fold the couch back into itself, take our baths, do our homework and put away the TV trays. The fun came to an end, but we would smile secret smiles to each other and remember the fun long after the last bowl of Fruit Loops cereal was gone. Those memories are among my fondest of childhood. So when I saw those banged up old TV trays, with colours and pattern of the good old ’70s, I could not offer them up as curb-side sacrifice. There had to be something we could do to make them ‘presentable’ as my mother would have said.
My conversation with Lisa went a little bit like this:
“What do you think? They’re kind of beat up aren’t they?’ I ask casually, as yet unwilling to tell her this is the first thing I want her to work on.
“Huh, I didn’t know they made TV trays in green and orange… I’ve never seen anything like them… What is the stuff stuck to the side of that one?” Lisa asked.
“Not sure… cake maybe?” I answer. (Lisa has the eyes of an eagle, and always notices if I have something stuck in my teeth or I’ve buttoned my shirt improperly. It is a good quality to have in her line of work. And I am never caught in public with smoked salmon stuck between my front teeth if she is around.)
“It’s weird how the stuck on bits have kept their colour,” she says as she crouches down to get a closer look at the bits of blue and yellow stuck to the side of one of the trays.
“So…. what do you think?” I chew my lip as I ask, though she doesn’t see it, focused as she is on trying to scrape some of the fragments off with her finger, in what I interpret as morbid fascination.
“Weird,” she answers absently. We observe the kind of silence only old friends feel comfortable with, and both of us stare at the trays, each lost in our own thoughts. My thoughts are preoccupied with trying to remember the last celebration my family shared before my father’s death. Her thoughts, I imagine, are caught up in debate over how best to convince her misguided friend that a trip to the dump is in order. But I am to be proven wrong.
After several minutes of scraping, Lisa looks up at me and muses, “you know this would make a really neat magnet board.”
I knew there was a reason we were friends. She gets me. She really does.
[show photos of two magnet boards. – Caption for the photo of my magnet board should read: . I rotate the photos I put up on this magnet board, and my children have taken to calling it “mommies memory board.” In this photo you can see a silly, wonderful candid picture I took of my beautiful mother in her 79th year. She died very shortly after the photo was taken.]While these particular finished products may never be featured in Martha Stewart living, my children and I have derived more pleasure from them than anything we could have purchased in a store. They are beautiful reminders of times gone by that now have a legitimate function in my home.Be sure to join us next week as Heather tells the story of the old suitcases.
In case you missed last week’s Furniture Stories: Meet Heather…
See the original recreation of the TV trays…