Heirlooms: a love story?

Cathy ZielskeCZ Life37 Comments

Dan has been on a cleaning and organizing binge for the past six months. (Side note: is there a sexier way to describe any man? I mean, really? Is there anything hotter than of a bottle of Windex and the phrase, "Do you care if I throw this out?")

One of his targets has been our attic, but he's also focusing on other areas of the house. A few days ago, he was sorting through a drawer and came across a stack of old photos. As he was sharing them with me, I paused on this one:


That's my tiny little hubby in red, sitting on his great grandmother's lap, circa 1967, his older siblings, Debbie and David, nestled in on either side. 

That's also my old couch.

When I moved in with Dan back in 1990, he owned a little duplex in Frogtown, a working class neighborhood just outside of St. Paul's downtown district. As I quickly discovered, he was the sibling who always said 'yes' to the cast offs and family hand-me-downs. 

Want your uncle's trunk of clothes from the 50s? Yes! Want your grandparents' old furniture? Absolutely! How about this collection of antique tincture bottles from the 1930s? I have JUST the place for that!

He has always been a man with a soft spot for the old and gently used. Not only that, he's always been a man with a sincere respect and love for the quality, craftsmanship and style from the days of yore. He's a fan of the vintage.

The couch you see in the photo above was his—and in turn became ours—for the first eight years of our married life. I brought practically nothing of substance to our union, in terms of earthly possessions. I added a bed, and a black futon and a black futon-like coffee table. (And of course, my sparkling personality!) But my cheap, college furniture didn't really stand the test of time like that old, inherited couch did.

The couch was relegated to the porch in the early 2000s, and then with our remodel in 2010, we said goodbye to it for good. It was, afterall, falling into disrepair and though it was hard for Dan to say that last goodbye, we did, in fact, bid it a final adieu.

Seeing this photo, I had a great idea: I'll find some photos that show our more recent past on the couch—us, the kids, friends, family—and I'll combine it with this photo for a layout, or a blog post, or something to show how things weave themselves effortlessly into the backgrounds of our lives.

So I sat down yesterday and pored over my photo albums. The active years this couch had in our family was during the pre-digital camera years, so I knew I would find photos in the pages of my traditional photo albums.

It was so fun to page through the albums, reconnecting with so many photos and so many memories. Page after page of our lives. I couldn't help but feel like in this digital era, where so many of my photos end up as bits and bytes in an iPhoto library, that not having a complete, printed photographic record at my disposal was somehow a loss.

And as I went through every possible album that could hold a photo of this couch's golden years, the only shot I ended up finding was this, from 2001:


Can you see it? In the upper right side of this shot, taken on Coleman's 2nd birthday? The beautiful curve of that inlaid wood? The classic fabric from a time long since passed?

That's the couch. And that is the only photo I could find that even showed a trace of it being in our home.

And that's when it hit me:

I hated that freaking couch.

It was small and scratchy and dark and you sunk into it every time you sat down, on account of the completely wasted and ancient infrastructure. It smelled funny, too.

Okay, maybe hated is too strong a word, but the day it went out to the porch was a happy day for me. And the day it left the premises completely? I think overjoyed comes to mind.

I guess the point to my story is this: not every heirloom is automatically cherished and loved.

I've never really been a vintage kind of girl.

I never loved that piece of furniture.

I loved the man that came with the couch like crazy though. Still do, in fact.

And that, blog readers, is probably the real point to this story.

Maybe that will make a great scrapbook page afterall.


Cathy ZielskeHeirlooms: a love story?

37 Comments on “Heirlooms: a love story?”

  1. #1

    That really was a scratchy couch. Loved reading every word this morning. Now i am in the mood to declutter!

  2. #4

    Love the story – it sounds like you might actually have a page or two to tell the story of the couch. And I love the connections you always seem to find.

  3. #6
    dan zielske

    The woman whose lap I am on top of was not my Grandma, but my Great Grandma Mathiesen. The couch and the accompanying gold chair (not pictured) were wedding presents to Grandpa Harry and Grandma Norraine I’m guessing in the midst of the depression. They passed down first to Uncle John and Aunt Mary before moving into my world. And lastly, how cute were my sister Debbie and brother David?

  4. #7

    Smiling this morning while reading this and then also when reading Margie’s comment. 🙂 xo! -Shell

  5. #8

    The fact that he is a softy for old and gently used speaks volumes about his going through stuff now and actually letting go. Probably has some deep meaning that i am not qualified to speak to but sure seems interesting. But there is something liberating about purging and living simply. I think that is the way life is meant to be and we (I) have cluttered it up with too much stuff. Okay, I’m done ( :

  6. #9

    Cathy, you have such a way of finding the significant in the everyday. Love how you wove that story together!

  7. #11

    I am laughing so hard that the only photo of the couch that you found is the one you were telling me about and I am so glad you blogged it anyway. Such a great post. It makes me wonder what other lives my old couch from Craigslist has had.

  8. #13

    Okay, I knew it was one of the elder relatives. But for some reason, I totally spaced that it was your GREAT grandma. Will update. LOVE YOU DAN ZIELSKE!

  9. #14

    Thanks, Janet. I take that as high praise. Really. Im having a week where nothing seemed to demand writing, and then I sat with that photo and thought: what IS the story here? Then, it came. : )

  10. #15

    Thanks for the giggle. We had one of those couches in my family. My mom put plywood under the cushions at one point to keep people from sinking down too far.

  11. #16

    that is a great story and the best part is the “no regret” in not having it anymore. for me, when I inherited things as a new bride, I didn’t care for them. I wanted NEW… but now, I look back a I do have regret. that’s not a great feeling. I love vintage. didn’t then. do now…

    have you heard the THRIFT SHOP song and seen the video on youtube? If Dan likes vintage, google it and play it for him. the video is hilarious and I think you will be singing it all next week.

    Bye, gotta go “pop some tags”

  12. #17
    Melinda Wilson

    While I was reading your post, I recently remembered seeing lots of pictures of family on couches (we just brought all my MIL’s albums home since we inherited them). It must have been the “in thing” years ago so I pondered a little more as to why. I remember my mother having the “brownie” camera and my grandfather’s was made before this came out . . . and these were “held about waist high”. I wonder if this is why – just some useless pondering I thought I would share. LOL!!

  13. #19
    Tammy M.

    Great story Cathy…thanks for sharing it! definitely gives a different perspective about things in our lives that touch us…good or bad.

  14. #23

    I have a scrapbook page that I did some years ago. It is entitled, “Very Nearly the Sexiest Thing I Have Ever Seen.” It features a 9 or 10-year old photo of my now husband from when he first moved in with me. He is wearing rubber gloves, and is on his knees scrubbing a toilet in my condo.
    I recall a couch like that sometime in my history – similar fabric anyway, but it seems like it was more pink. Definitely scratchy.

  15. #24

    You’re right…there’s nothing more sexy than a man asking if something can be thrown out. In fact, I have a scrapbook page of my incredibly wonderful (and gorgeous) husband vacuuming the foyer just prior to a graduation party at our house. He always comes through for me that way. Great story Cathy!

  16. #25

    Great story. Looking forward to seeing the resulting scrapbook page(s) (as early as next week perhaps since you’re already armed with photos and story) and, of course, the clean, simple design templates/ideas that come with all of your pages. Thanks for sharing.

  17. #26
    Judy Sanza

    You just described (and very well, I might add) the meaning of everyday life. I bet Grandma might say the same thing, “Dear, I never liked that uncomfortable couch, and I’m sorry you were saddled with it.” This made me think of all the couches and hand-me-downs I’ve had over the years. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

  18. #27

    I love how one single piece of furniture, no matter how big or how small, can trigger such memories. Please do put the story on to a page of its very own, that’s the very least the couch deserves!

  19. #28

    Well i didnt realize until Dan posted today that the couch had been a wedding gift to his grandparents from their parents. Now I feel like a jerk for not cherishing the history. Ah hell, it really DID itch.

  20. #30

    That’s a great story to document, even without more pictures!
    It is wonderful to flick through printed pictures and album pages, but isn’t it amazing how few pictures we used to take back in the film era?! There are so many pictures I thought that I took, things I was sure I had photos of, but I never did because they were a waste of film (or the shot turned out blurry or got lost or was given away).
    When I lived overseas I went through film at an astonishing rate and shot lots of “everyday life” photos, but I’m still amazed at all the things I never took a photo of – especially things that I didn’t much like. Now I can only write about them. But that’s OK.
    I’m glad you didn’t keep the couch. I’m sure the original owners would have replaced it themselves at some point if they had the means. And the couch means less and less the more it gets passed down because the stories get lost. It’s the story that makes it a great couch, not the couch itself (no one wants a saggy lumpy itchy couch!).
    btw Go decluttering Dan!!

  21. #31

    God I love that story. We had similarly “inherited” furniture from my father-in-law’s office. Our living room looked like a frickin’ “waiting room.”
    And I too hated that couch. It was a mustard colored number, made of Naugahyde or something not naturally found in nature and it was shaped like a piece of Jetson’s furniture (although I imagine someone who loves mid-century would’ve liked it).
    I don’t think I have any photos of it, but it’s seared into my memory. Maybe I too have a scrapbook page!

  22. #32
    Tammy B

    Awesome! My husband and I had a lot of ‘vintage’ furniture when we first moved in together. Hand-me-downs from here, there and everywhere it seemed. We still have my parents old kitchen table and chairs that are 40+ years old. Most everything else – gone. Wow – how many pages could one do with this kind of story?! Thanks!

  23. #33
    Abby P.

    I saw something in that photo that brought back a happy memory for ME! Dan’s sister is wearing, what I believe to be, plastic high-heeled shoes with glittery elastic circular straps that went around the ankle and across the toes — I was 7 in 1967, and my mom bought me a pair. Of course, they weren’t meant for running in, as I often did, and the platic arch broke in half. NO PROBLEM! I just broke off all of the parts from the heel, and GLUED the HEELS to my “sneakers”!! Ahhhhh, the good ole days!

  24. #35

    Yes, I moved in with my other half on weekends in 1990 and married in 1991. My parents didn’t want me to be driving an hour home on weekends to stay in the the house we bought together when we recently engaged. We married in 1991 and a couch just the same came into my life. It was a couch of down, color orange. Luckily, it moved on but I still have a dining set that screams, “It’s not our style” and even though his mother can’t make it back from Maui to visit….he can’t get rid of it just yet. I bought a ping pong set, you know….the ones that attach to any table and I’ll have to say it is getting some use, more than ever.

  25. #36

    I love this story. I too started out with hand-me-downs. My furniture initially was my parents bought in the 70’s when I was a kid. Remember all those unfinished furniture stores that used to be around? In St. Paul, there was Buck’s (I think it wasn’t too far from the fair grounds), which is where they got it all spending many hours staining and varnishing it all. I have a few things in my kitchen that came from my grandma. I won’t part with those. The furniture went to my younger brother.

  26. #37
    Sara S

    I don’t know how I missed this post when you first wrote it but I’m so glad I read it today! We too have an inherited couch (now sitting it our unfinished basement, I’d love it if something would damage it beyond repair). This post made me realize that I should scrapbook our ugly, brown, puffy couch. It also had the lovely wood trim which our daughter hit when she fell and gave herself two black eyes the night before our son was born. I can’t believe the hospital let us take him home with our daughter looking so beaten! There are hardly any photos of it when we used it as our main couch because I hated it so but now I see that it was part of our history that needs recording. So thanks Cathy!

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