A Furniture Story: Three Drawers, 6,000 Miles, One Family

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dresser wooden close up

The other day, a dresser arrived at my door, its last leg of a journey that spanned nearly 6,000 miles since 1979.

As it traveled through the Rockies and found its way to me, I was thinking a lot — about the dresser’s meaning, about furniture’s importance, about my life.

To tell the truth, I know almost nothing about the dresser. Not where it was made, the kind of wood it is, or even when it was crafted.

What I do know is, my parents bought it when they were fairly newly-wed and new to Vancouver, around 1970, from a best-kept-secret store that’s still in operation, The Source.

It is a monstrous thing, some 53” long, 52” high, and 20” deep, with drawers heavy and shoulder-straining before even filling it with clothes.

If it seems large now, it was positively towering when I stood before it as a five-year-old in my childhood home’s basement. I recall the odd time I hid in it during hide’n’seek. It is where I learned a great truth of life: It’s better to fail and be found and have fun doing so, than to hide too well and be bored waiting and alone forever with nothing happening.

The elaborate journey

The dresser’s journey began on a fateful day my mother decided to donate it to our Catholic School’s fundraising auction, one ominous eve before my Aunt Pat’s arrival from Ontario.

It wasn’t long before she barked at my mother, “Shirley! Where on Earth is that dresser?!”

My mother explained. With no room upstairs for such a behemoth, and the basement about to be refinished as a mortgage-helper, some things had to go. So, sayonara, fancy big old dresser.

Aunt Pat demanded she be taken at once to the school, where an auction would be held the next night. I never heard that conversation with the nuns, but knowing Aunt Pat, I’m sure she explained that her sister was young and foolish, and the donation was in error. All we know is, she made a sizable “donation” to the school’s cause, and the dresser turned quickly around and came back home for a short time.

A clear beneficiary

That summer, it trekked 2,800 miles across the country to Toronto, where it remained. I didn’t see it again until I visited her 17 years later in 1997. We fell into fun reminiscing about the dresser, and somehow we found ourselves in her room, pulling the dresser out. She grabbed a massive Jiffy Marker and scrawled large letters across the back of the dresser, “This I bequeath to Steffani Cameron, my poor, deprived niece.”

After her death in 2003 or so, I got a phone call from my cousins, who had to chuckle through their sorrow. “So, we were going through her room and when we pulled out the dresser, happened to find this note…”

With my apartments always too small, it went to live with Cousin Linda in Calgary. Now, a decade later, I have a home large enough for the beast. And here it is.

An emotional reunion

My heart pounded when it arrived. I was consumed with excitement. For a dresser.

I wouldn’t have spent $200 sending an Ikea dresser out to myself, and I could have bought a dresser for what my shipping costs were. But I guarantee you, there’s no way my heart would’ve skipped a beat for any other dresser on this planet.

It’s not weird that I got attached to this thing that’s a symbol of my family, and a reminder of so many different family members who’ve played a role in its journey through my life.

What’s weird and sad is how few people today have that kind of connection with anything they own.

I’m not exalting the joys of materialism and I certainly don’t abide clutter. Instead, I’m suggesting there are things we should keep because of who they remind us of, who we were once, and they tug at our heart-strings in the best possible ways.

Pieces chosen with care

I have other things that are nice but don’t remind me of anything, and I have also owned gorgeous things that gave me bad memories. I let go of much in my life, but the pieces I have now are fewer than ever, and chosen with more care. I feel warm inside when I see the things around me. No burden of clutter, no abundance of belongings, just nice pieces that speak to times of my life.

This dresser belongs here now. It fits in every possible way.

Since it only came into my family in 1970, bought by my parents when they were younger than I am now, the dresser certainly not a family heirloom, and yet, it kind of is.

The moral to my story is pretty simple. When choosing furniture for your home, don’t just pick things that are nice. Find something unique, something you love, and something that will last. You never know. Maybe it’ll become the piece at the center of your story, or your child’s, years from now.

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Steffani Cameron

Steffani Cameron is a Victoria BC-based writer on a variety of topics. Here on the BuildDirect blog, she specializes in writing about smaller, urban spaces. How do you make the most of your smaller space? How do you decorate it to suit you? And how do you wage the war against clutter and win? This is Steff’s specialty.