By Lily Kongslien, special to the Star Journal.
Have you taken a walk through one of our many furniture stores lately? Rows and rows of different styles of furniture ranging from bedroom, living room and kitchen pieces can be purchased “on time” or for cash, with warranties and trade-ins, or just about any kind of a deal.
Taking a walk down memory lane, I recall the furniture that was found in our house during the Depression. Most pieces were hand-me-downs from friends and family, hand-made or antique pieces. In our kitchen, the Majestic kitchen range was queen of the room, and the large kitchen table (handmade) was nearby, surrounded by wooden painted chairs made by my father. The table received a new oil-cloth periodically, and the worn linoleum on the floor was replaced as needed. A large wooden kitchen cabinet against the wall adjacent to the stove held the “best” dishes. It had many drawers and shelves and a working space above the large flour and sugar bins. My father had built a nice breakfast nook- there were four of us, so two benches and a wooden table between served us well. We at all our meals there, except in the summer when we often ate in the screened back porch; when company came on Sundays, we kids ate at the breakfast nook, and the adults ate at the large kitchen table. Really, the kitchen table was used mainly by all of us on the cold winter nights for homework and crafts or games. The view out of the window at the breakfast nook was out onto the lawn and beyond to the fox yard area. I especially remember the space below the benches – a good place to hide toys and books. Our pump was indoors in a corner of the kitchen; it had a granite sink surrounded by shelves for combs, tooth care articles, towels and glasses for drinking that pure, clear, cold well water. We washed dishes at the kitchen table using dishpans and threw the dish water into the sink, which emptied outside into a drain area. This surely wouldn’t comply with the rules nowadays! Simple kerosene lamps were kept on shelves when not in use, and they were moved as needed for schoolwork or reading. And I must not forget to mention the large wood box near the stove which had to be kept filled winter and summer. Along one wall of the kitchen were many hooks for hanging our jackets and snow pants, and a special spot for my father to hang his winter boots and socks each night so they would be dry by morning. Our kitchen was not large, but it contained all that was needed for our daily existence, year round.
Off from the kitchen was the living room, complete with its chrome-trimmed large heater. On weekends this room was heated, and we enjoyed the extra space. My father had his own leather chair that he made himself, and a rocker was handy for my mother while she mended or did her handwork. My brother and I usually sprawled on the floor or on the couch (daybed). The couch was also a display area for my mother’s handwork and many pillows. A library table, complete with shelves, was a storage space for magazines and newspapers. Our gas lamp was placed on this table so it could shed its white light around the room. Most of the walls throughout the house were “kalsomined” in a light tan color – this was cheaper than paint, I am told. In a corner of the front room was a large glass door bookcase which held our father’s collections – a complete set of Dickens, a series of Horatio Alger books and nature books in Danish and English. He read and re-read these books on the long winter nights as the fire crackled in the heater. We had an area rug on the floor in this room and on Saturdays it was my job to use the old carpet sweeper to clean it—pushing it back and forth so the brushes would pick up threads and lint and sand. At the far end of the room stood our old graphophone (record player) which was used also during the long winter evenings. Some of my father’s paintings decorated the walls, with some old family photos.
My brother’s bedroom was upstairs; mine was downstairs just off from the living room. It was a small cozy room and my father had built me a nice wall bookcase. My parents’ bedroom was small, but served its purpose and had a roomy closet at one end. Their dresser was called a chiffoneer; I loved to peek in the top drawer as that was where my mother kept her nice-smelling jars and powders—loose powder was used a lot by the ladies at that time.
Along the front of the house, facing the Wisconsin River was a long concrete porch, complete with stone pillars and fancy stonework. My father had been a stone mason in Denmark and continued some of his work when he got to America. There was a green wicker swing at the end of the porch, and it was here that I would spend my spare hours with a favorite book. The door from inside opened onto the porch from the front room. Most of our company came to the back door, but company from “the river” used this front door.
We didn’t have fancy furniture, but it was nice and well cared for. My mother always saw to it that there were clean starched curtains on the windows and fresh doilies and fancy “throws” on the couch and easy chairs. I believe the adjective ‘comfortable’ best describes our furniture, and a second adjective would be ‘useful.’ I realize it would not compare to the furniture we have today, but it was sufficient for us, and we enjoyed and loved every piece. We surely didn’t have color-coordinated carpeting, drapes and furniture, or an automated kitchen with the latest time-savers, but we did have one “prize” antique that I must mention only for history’s sake.
My father had worked at the Don Carroll fox farm north of McNaughton before we had our own silver fox business. Don Carroll gave my father a mahogany piece of furniture, a desk with a drawer for storing sheet music, which had come from England years ago when Don Carroll’s great-grandfather came to America. And the historical part is that this great-grandfather of my father’s friend was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, signing as Charles Carroll of Carrollton. My parents gave me this writing desk, and I have now given it to my daughter who loves antiques, and she will pass it on to her daughter, along with its history.