A recent theme for 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks was ‘Hand Me Downs‘.
Most of the hand-me-downs in my life were clothes. Most of the family heirlooms didn’t come to me until after my loved ones passed. But one piece of furniture that originally belonged to my paternal grandmother’s first cousin was handed down and not inherited.
Myrtle and Goldie
Myrtle HILLARD BURROUGHS (1903-1977) was the first cousin of my paternal grandmother, Goldie PRICE HEISER (1893-1919). Myrtle’s mother and Goldie’s father were siblings. Goldie and Myrtle were close even with their age difference. Both families lived in Montgomery County, Maryland until Goldie’s family moved to Frederick, Maryland. The girls saw each other as often as visiting was possible. Travel wasn’t so easy then.
Goldie’s short life
Goldie married my grandfather, Daniel Wilbert HEISER (1882-1974) in June 1912. My dad, Charles Leroy HEISER (1913-2001), was born 10 months later. He was followed by two sisters. Goldie and family eventually moved to Washington, DC, and that’s where they lived when Goldie died from the Spanish Flu in 1919. You can read more about that here.
After Goldie died my dad was raised in Frederick by Goldie’s parents, Montgomery PRICE (1859-1947) and Sally PYLES PRICE (1862-1940). Dan and the girls went to York, Pennsylvania where Dan’s parents were. It is unclear why my dad stayed in Frederick.
Myrtle and my dad
Myrtle was about 10 years older than my dad, and she loved him like a little brother. He returned that ‘sibling’ love to her. Eventually Myrtle married and lived in Washington, DC. But she and my dad remained close. Myrtle had no siblings, and my dad had almost no contact with his sisters so he was basically without siblings, too. Myrtle and her husband had no children, and she was widowed in her 40’s.
Myrtle and my family
As the years went on, Dad and Myrtle stayed close. Myrtle was included in all holidays when I was growing up. She lived on the Maryland side of Washington, DC. She didn’t drive so my dad would go get her and bring her to stay at our house. And we often went to see her on Sunday afternoons. This was in the days of ‘kids should be seen, but not heard.’ Especially when I was little, the visits to Myrtle’s were boring. There was nothing to do, and the adults just talked, talked, talked.
Sunday afternoons at Myrtle’s
In the corner of Myrtle’s living room stood a grand piece of furniture. I could tell it was a desk, but it was more than that. The lower part was a desk, but the top part had a glass front with doors that opened. And there appeared to be interesting treasures inside. I knew not to even ask about what was in it because when I got too close to the desk, I was told not to touch it.
The desk, which was called a secretary, had a drop-down front on it, and it was always opened. There was a little door in the middle of the desk area. As a kid I often fantasized about what was behind that little door, be it a stately house or a cozy cottage. That was one of the ways I passed time as I sat there on the stiff couch, sort-of listening as the adults talk about boring things.
The secretary comes to my dad
When Myrtle died, she left everything to my dad. The contents of her two-bedroom apartment was brought to our house to be sorted and decided upon. The secretary came, too. I was a young adult at this point, and now no one told me not to touch it.
I slowly opened the drop-down front to the full open position. I stared at the little door, and for a moment I was back in Myrtle’s stuffy little apartment imagining what lie behind it. I opened the little door to find nothing at all which I actually expected since the secretary had to be emptied to be moved. It wasn’t as anti-climactic as you might think, though. I had fulfilled a childhood wish…to open that little door.
My mom saw me looking into the little space and said she wanted to show me something. The pillars on either side of the door pulled forward to reveal hidden compartments! How spectacular was that! That made me love the secretary even more.
When I moved out at 21, I asked for the secretary. My dad said no. And he said no again and again when I asked for it. I finally quit asking for it. Then when Jim and I bought our house in Maryland, my dad asked me if I still wanted the secretary. YES! The secretary has been with me ever since.
I do not keep it open like Myrtle did because I am a klutz and would surely run into the drop down. And it isn’t nearly as tidy and minimalistic inside as when Myrtle owned it.
I do have treasures in the top behind the glass; and I’ve kept the set of desk accessories that Myrtle had on the desk including the pen holder, the last pad she had on the desk, a metal box for rubber bands and paper clips (which I use), and a paperweight that has a calendar on one side and a photo of my dad as a young man on the other.
Whenever I open the drop down to grab something I’ve stored in there, memories of Myrtle and afternoons in her apartment come back to me. And the little door still intrigues me even though I know there is no hidden world behind it.
What treasured hand-me-downs do you have? Comment below.
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