Moments of Discovery # 9: Keys to the Riddle

A Riddle

I have no head, and a tail I lack,

But oft have arms, and legs, and a back;

I inhabit the palace, the tavern, the cot-

‘Tis a beggarly residence where I am not.

If a monarch were present (I tell you no fable),

I still should be placed at the head of the table.

What am I?

You have probably already guessed the answer, a piece of furniture often passed down through the generations. Yet sorting through what is bequeathed us, we often handle family heirlooms whose origins are a riddle.

Some Artifacts

Our mother’s adjustable high chair, for example. It’s for sure from the Metzler/Landis side of the family, but we are not sure exactly where it came from. Did parents Abram and Sadie Metzler buy it new? Did the Landis grandparents present it as a gift because it was their very first grand-daughter? It looks well preserved, but its origin still a puzzle.

MomChairHigh

This gorgeous, glazed floral dish . . . of its vintage we are sure.

Dish given to my mother from her parents, Abram and Sadie Metzler on her wedding day
Dish given to my mother from her parents, Abram and Sadie Metzler on her wedding day

It’s no mystery where this Japanese teacup came from either. Mother, pretending to be me, wrote legibly in black that it’s from my maternal Grandma, Annie Metzler. It once survived an explosion in my curio cabinet. You can read about that here.

Japanese cup

 

The German Bible has been in our family for centuries. The signatures signify it belongs in the Longenecker line. No mystery there.

Henry Risser Longenecker, my Grandfather, son of Levi Longenecker, listed in the family Bible.
Henry Risser Longenecker, my Grandfather, son of Levi Longenecker, listed in the family Bible.

 

A Special Chair

This chair below has sat in our bedroom for years. And it’s no enigma where it came from.

ChairMartinFront

ChairMartinUnderneath

The provenance of the chair was taped to the bottom of this chair. Did I say chair? Yes, of course, this is the answer to the riddle above.

Since 1975, I have transcribed the names of generations of Martins and Longeneckers that have used this chair to host dinners. It’s called the Joseph Martin chair because it was handed down to us from Fannie Martin Longenecker, our grandmother.

ChairMartinLineage

Teacups, dishes, and chairs are inanimate. Unlike the personable “characters” in the Be Our Guest song from Beauty and the Beast, they come to life only when friends and family gather ‘round the table hospitably.

A Memorable Dinner

TableRuthieChrist2004

This photo was snapped just before bodies of all ages – the wiggly young, the pregnant great grand-daughters, the middle-aged, the elderly – gathered around the table at Grandma Longenecker’s house ready to dig in to Christmas dinner in 2004.

This was the last time Aunt Ruthie was able to host the dinner. She was 86 then. Of course she had lots of help, but this was the last time she sat as hostess at the head of the table, probably on an antique chair.

Aunt Ruthie (approx. age 75) busy in the kitchen, 1990s
Aunt Ruthie (approx. age 75) busy in the kitchen, 1990s

* * *

What antiques do you regularly use at home? Have stored in the attic? Do you know a reliable website or service for valuing antiques?

 

Coming next: Sastruga, Snowy Winter Blankets

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61 thoughts on “Moments of Discovery # 9: Keys to the Riddle

  1. Good morning, Marian! I love how you’ve documented the history of your family heirlooms. How delightful it would be if they could sing and dance like the characters in Beauty and the Beast, but you have charted their “lives” in a different way. I showed my husband your chair and said to him that we should document some of our things, too. That generations-old family Bible is also very special.

    I don’t know if you remember that my parents had a antique business, so we grew up with antiques, if not family treasures. Now, of course, some of those objects have become family heirlooms, and we also have some furniture from my husband’s family, too.

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    1. At some point we will need to make our cards and sticky notes digital. The items you view here are either now in our home or in my Aunt Ruthie’s house in Pennsylvania. My sisters and I have donated several items to the Young Center for Pietist Studies at Elizabethtown College: 1765 Nuremberg Bible, 1848 Gesang Buch, and some items from our dad’s shop, Longenecker Farm Supply including one of his monogrammed shop hats.

      Yes, you have jogged my faint memory about your family’s antique business. I think I spot some antique chairs when you post photos of your own home.

      I’m glad this inspired Doug to document some of your precious items, a good job for a retiree I’d say. Thanks for stepping up once again to begin the conversation here and ditto for sharing on Facebook too.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t have any. My mother has never been a keeper of anything. I remember growing up we changed furniture every three years. The furniture my mother has today is what I gave her when I bought new furniture 12 years ago. Last year I changed my furniture and gave what I had to my niece. The only thing that I’ve kept for years are my Christmas ornaments that are things my children and grandchildren made at school. I loved Mom’s house because everything had meaning. Great picture and memories.

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    1. Hand-made Christmas ornaments – you can’t beat that. And your kindness shows once again in passing furniture on to your mother.

      You probably remember other china pieces Mother had in her china cabinet perhaps the blue cup & saucer.

      The most important things you are passing on though are not things, but character traits more valuable than gold – or china! Thanks, Gloria.

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  3. Most of our furniture has accumulated over our marriage, selected to fit many different houses in different stages of our lives. My mother has numerous family heirlooms with her at Landis Homes since her apartment is large.

    That high chair is gorgeous, and the handwriting in the Bible amazing. You are teaching future generations to treasure memories as you enjoy your own. Thanks for another excellent post, Marian.

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    1. I remember your mentioning that your mother took many family heirlooms with her to Landis Homes including that prized pump organ. Having familiar pieces around her must have made her transition easier.

      If you read my comment to Merril, you know we have donated several valuable items to the Young Center where they will be preserved for posterity. In the end though they are just things. You and I both know that creating memories and passing down sturdy character traits are what counts most. As always, thank you for the nod here, Shirley.

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  4. Such treasures! I love the little document taped to the bottom of the chair telling it’s story. I may have to do something like that with a special chair I have in my home too. I’m also thinking it may be time to start making little notes and attach them to special heirlooms. There are many things I have and treasure that no one else knows the significance of. Perhaps no one will care after I’m gone, but I’m holding out hope that by the time my granddaughter is an adult she’ll have a fresh appreciation for some of the old things.

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    1. We can always hold on to hope. Our children, probably Gen X’ers, are part of the age group with a disposable mentality, but your little red-head two generations removed may be the exception. Notes attachments are a good idea simply because of foggy memory: I probably would remember that the Japanese cup & saucer came from Grandma Metzler, but I wouldn’t remember the date. My kids wouldn’t know either.

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  5. Oh dear, if I had to show my husband this beautiful record of family belongings, his heart would break a little. We moved from our large home and property 2 1/2 years ago to our much smaller townhouse and made decisions about many things of antiquity and value and personal meaning and also use if not decoration. Long story short before I get all bleary – we sold much at auction and received very fair prices. I photographed everything …though haven’t yet re-looked. And some stuff we have kept. Some beautifully crafted chairs. I’m especially pleased to have some of mother’s china, the prettiest plates and soup bowls … if I was at home I would say what vintage they are but I’m away down at the sea – I would never give away or sell my father’s silver cigarette case or a silver jug or a few other heirlooms. Oh dear, before I get too reminiscent, let me say thank you for the lovely appreciative feelings that were stirred up in me Marian ..

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    1. Your stirred up “appreciative feelings” reveal that you do have some very special choice mementos remaining. You have photos, a good thing. We are on a path to down-size in the next year or two, so hard choices are ahead for us too.

      Your comment reminds me too that are in the middle of an African summer. Enjoy every minute “down at the sea.”

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  6. You have some beautiful antique objects and must be very proud of such precious family heirlooms. I love your high chair best, as we also bought an antique one for our son and my husband uses it now in his Art room in school for his students to draw.

    My mother in law gave us a beautiful Colclogh bone china tea set that I am too afraid to use. It is safely displayed in my kitchen/dining room cabinet and I fear it shall remain there until we move away!!!

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    1. Something else we have in common: a son who teaches art. Yes, the high chair could offer opportunities for shading, architectural detail, and perspective.

      You should probably use your Colclogh bone china tea set at least once, but I understand your reluctance – ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Marian — That table set for a feast is utterly amazing! I would love to be a fly on the wall when your clan gathers round it. Oh the fun!

    You asked, “What antiques do you regularly use at home? Have stored in the attic?”

    A dyed-in-the-wool minimalist, I don’t have things stored anywhere, but we do use an antique iron base as a doorstop. Weighing in at 20 pounds, it serves us well.

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    1. The thought of down-sizing gives me the willies. At this stage of my life, I admire your minimalist attitude. Your move from Illinois to Idaho was much less encumbered because of it, and I mean that literally.

      A 20-pound door stop. Wow! If you ever need to keep Len in line . . . no, I’ll stop there. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Marian – My mother always said, “Travel light, travel fast.” That bit of wisdom has served me well for as long as I can remember. Len and I could pack up and move in less than 48 hours if we wanted to. Definitely not for everyone, but it feels so light and airy to me.

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        1. I think that light and airy attitude translates well to your writing style, concise and breezy but always profound. We have begun sorting and re-cycling in a house we’ve lived in for over thirty years. It won’t be 48 hours for us . . . !

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  8. How special that you have the old German bible. There is one in our family too but I´m not sure who has it. We have many antiques, some that were brought over from South Russia. I have a lovely tea cup that was my mom´s when she was a young girl. It is good to keep these things. I have passed some on to my daughter and granddaughters. A great way to keep the past alive.

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  9. My mother’s paternal side of the family (the Kroegers) were famous clock makers in Prussia and later in Ukraine. Although many people brought those clocks to North America during earlier migrations, our family, fleeing hastily in October 1943, was not able to do so. Arthur Kroeger, my mother’s cousin, published a book about the Kroeger Clocks and that has an honored place on our coffee table. My grandmother brought the big German Bible she received as a wedding present. It is completely falling apart but I have it in my possession, and I treasure it. My grandmother had five children and she has written an account of each of their births in this Bible. She also recorded other births and deaths. This is my most valuable antique possession.

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    1. You have enough history in words and artifacts, especially the big German Bible, to keep the Kroeger family history alive, Elfrieda, a great service to future generations.

      The women in your family line certainly did their part under the extreme duress of having to migrate from their homelands. I suspect you may have written about more recent family history too.

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  10. We have no real heirlooms from generations ago. However, I am the holder for the family of some items that were my parent’s – mostly just small things. I do need to write a background for each of them for when they are passed on to the next generation.

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  11. What an incredible , delightful and inspiring post . All thoes beautiful heirlooms all have their own personal secrets . Wouldn’t it be delightful to be able to go back in time just to see what these amazing items have seen …oh to be a fly on the wall.
    I have collected small items , nothing huge . I have a tiny note pad of my mothers with pieces of poetry ( usually Shakespeare which she loved ) and bits of writing she wrote . When I miss her , which is many times , iI have a little gander .
    Cherryx

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    1. Yes, Cherry, I would like to know who sat on that chair through the years and who passed the pretty dish around the table, all mysteries now.

      It’s a good thing that you have collected small items: they’re easier to store + you would have less resistance from the next generation who don’t seem (in my case at least) to want us to give them things. I’m sure when you “have a little gander” you savor the hand-writing too. Precious!

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  12. The photo I love most here is the “still life” of the Christmas table. The pops of green ferns around the windows breathes life into the winter scene. I have discovered that as I take mementos and photograph them for my blog or just my files, I feel more okay about letting go of them as needed: to throw away special cards or scraps of notes.

    The underside of your very plain chair is so rich in history and memories I’m sure. I do like the old notes that went with our family’s grandfather clock as it was lovingly passed down to my brother’s family (the youngest in the family is always designated as the heir for that particular piece.)

    Thanks for the thoughts this evokes.

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    1. The photo must have been taken with a “cool” filter. As to the ferns, my sister has had good luck with the next generation of Grandma’s plant, and now our son Joel has an off-shoot that’s doing well. You are so observant, Melodie!

      I find it interesting that the youngest in your family is designated as heir to heirlooms. Often it’s the oldest. An aunt gave me a punch bowl set with the remark that I got it because I was the oldest. That has caused mild resentment, especially since the distance between Florida and Pennsylvania makes it hard to share.

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      1. Yes, that was a different pattern established long before even my father was born. But he was the youngest, and that’s where the clock went, and now to my brother. While we would all love to have it, it’s nice to not have arguments or resentment. It is very valuable even though we all hope it will never be sold. 🙂

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  13. Loved the riddle Marian. You had me stumped. You certainly have quite a collection of wonderful antiques. I love the highchair.
    Years ago, my dad bought an old boarding house as a rental property, it was formerly an old convent for nuns. Before he began renting it out as a boarding house, he brought home so many old furniture pieces like bureaus, bookshelves, and books. I used some of the pieces when I moved away from home, without realizing their antique value; after all, I needed furniture.
    Sadly, the boarding house burnt down within a year. 😦

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    1. It’s sad that the boarding house burnt down but happily you got some valuable pieces of furniture out of it just in time. I’m glad you liked the riddle.

      I’m guessing you still are enjoying your Arizona getaway. 😉

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        1. Ten, fifteen years ago we would not have allowed our computers to rule our lives so. When I go on a “real” vacation, I want to have the courage to do what my friend in Ukraine did last year, left her darn computer at home.

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  14. I am still smiling, Marian. This riddle is engraved on the chair seat underside of the head-of-the-table chair that sat at the head of my grandmother’s long table that seated 14 for Sunday and holiday dinners (we took turns sitting at the Big Table and the small tables set up in the living room by drawing straws, and once, when I was 11, I got to sit at the head of the Big Table!)
    Your details and pictures are always such a treat!

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    1. There is a lot of synchronicity going on here. I guess we are each other’s Doppelgangers. I remember the designations Big Table and Little Table, but I don’t recall anyone drawing straws. My pictures and details mirror yours many times; maybe that’s why you enjoy them so much. Anyway, we’re back to the Doppelganger thing once again – ha!

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  15. Lovely, Marian. Thank you for photos and memories. I have only a few things, but I cherish them. I have a photo of my great aunt Eliza Ware taken when she was six, the year she was killed when a tornado swept through the country school. A beautiful serious child. As you might imagine, it was a big family wound, especially for my grandpa who was also in the school that day. In the back of the photo, I have a security pocket with the newspaper article about the disaster and a copy of the letter Eliza’s father wrote to my great-great grandfather about the family loss. My bedroom wall is covered with handmade doilies, throws, and other beauty created by my paternal grandmother. I also have her fan on the wall and her black evening purse. I gave her Bible to my daughter-in-law as a wedding gift. I know my d-i-l will take care of it. I sleep in my maternal grandparent’s bed and use their dresser and chest. And my house is decorated with photos taken by Vic and framed by him–and these will become heirlooms passed to my sons who already have quite a few of pop’s exquisite photos. I’ll stop here before my list is longer than your blog.

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    1. Ha, Elaine, I’ll have to quibble with the word “few” as you have quite a few heirlooms and keepsakes. I wonder whether you have written a blog post about Eliza. There is so much detail evident in what you have already written. From your description, your paternal grandma seems to be stylish and religious.

      Many of your furnishings must give you solace and some remind you of past sufferings. I’ll wager that Vic’s do both.

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    1. I can’t think of a better heirloom for a wordsmith than your grandmother’s diary. Those writer genes were planted deep in your DNA. 🙂

      Thanks for taking the time to comment here, busy lady that you are, Jill!

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  16. We have two chairs from Commando Seniors house that I believe they bought when they first got married fifty odd years ago. I’ve also got a couple of small glass ornaments that belonged to Mother. It’s nice to keep these things in the family.

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  17. Lovely, tangible momentos of the past. That high chair is very ornate, and the wheels on the chair sure came in handy. But I wonder if there also was a way to keep it from rolling. I haven’t kept any furniture or dishes from the past – partly because it would have been impractical to move them as I’ve moved so much.

    One antique I do crave, however, is an old trunk – not the rounded stem trunk, but one with a flat surface. I’d love to have one for a coffee table. 😉

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      1. Got it, Judy – not that I’d know the difference in trunks. You mentioned the possibility of a brake on the high chair. I do see a metal bar in the back, but I have not idea how it would be connected to the wheels.

        I do hope you get your steam trunk some day. Maybe throw hints about it as a retirement gift?

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    1. Happy New Year, Sheryl. I guess it’s still appropriate to wish that!

      I’m with you – sentimental value far outweighs the monetary. When I watch Antiques Roadshow on PBS, it is obvious that many who own antiques are curious about the value, but don’t want to part with the item regardless of the price.

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  18. Wow–those are some beautiful family mementos, not to mention some beautiful family memories! They remind me of the treasured objects in my grandma’s house, most of which had to be dispersed when she moved into assisted living. I’m glad you still have many of yours available to enjoy!

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