View From Hickory Heights: Hand-Me-Downs

Most of the young people today have no concept of hand-me-downs because we live in a throwaway society. They do not think about preserving things and passing them on to someone else. Oh, they may go through their closet and decide to give something away when it is Goodwill Day at a local store, but other than that they do not think in terms of reusing something.

I lived with hand-me-downs, in fact, that was even how I got some of my clothes. A relative who always had the latest and the best in fashions sent me things when she no longer cared for them or when she outgrew them. I was delighted to receive a bag of clothes from Barbara. In the end by the time I reached my teens I no longer received clothes from her because I was larger than she was.

When it was time to dismantle my great-grandfather’s homestead grandpa and his brother worked out a system that seemed fair. Since Philip was the oldest he got first choice of what he would like from the homestead. Grandpa picked next. It went that way until everything that anyone wanted was out of the house.

When it came to the little things the grandchildren were allowed to pick things that they wanted. I lived out of town so I was the last one to pick. I told my grandfather that I really wanted the old kitchen table. It was a medium weight oak table with five legs. It needed the fifth leg because it had a lot of leaves to extend it. Actually I was not sure it was made of oak since I only remember it being painted. I had seen it be green and gray.

That was all my grandpa needed to decide to refinish it. That was the table that he ate at all the while he was at home. He discovered that it had at least two more coats of paint than I remembered. Shortly after we moved into Hickory Heights the kitchen table was ready. I sold the kitchen set I had purchased second hand to be able to make room for my hand-me-down table. That is the table that my children and grandchildren think of when they think of eating at grandma’s house. The memory of my dear grandfather is strong when I sit at that table because he refinished it as a labor of love for me and my family.

If you want your children to cherish something you have you must use it. It will be important to them if they remember it being around the house.

In the early years I fed the men who worked for us. Every evening during the summer the table was filled with the hungry crew. Because of the leaves that extended it, the legs had casters on them so the table was easy to move. That way it did not scratch the floor either. Just for the record here – let me say that I have never had all of the leaves in the table. It would not fit that way in my kitchen.

My husband teased me about my hand-me-down table for years. He often wheeled the table around on those casters so that you had someone else’s plate when it was time to eat. I found out the table was not new when it came to my great-grandparents. They purchased it second hand.

My mother and her siblings followed the same policy as they were settling my grandparents’ estate. I have explained how it worked to my children. That way everyone got some things they wanted, but not all of what any of them wanted. The monetary value played no part in the method of distribution. I have left specific instructions for my children to use the same method when it comes time to settle my estate.

Often on a Sunday afternoon the family took a ride and stopped at a second hand store. I found many nice things that way. When I won a contest that netted me a $100 prize I once again went to the second hand store. I found three lights that I now have in my house. One of them was an exact match for lights I already had in my pantry. I paid a lot less for my second hand light than I paid in the first place.

Although I found many things at what the children jokingly called the “junk” stores the things I have from home are my most precious possessions. Oh, they are not valuable but they are special to me. Each time I sit in a chair or climb into bed I remember the people who owned the things before I did. If only these pieces could talk I am sure they would have many stories to tell.

Even the furniture of today is not made to last. I heard one carpenter say, “This fine specimen with its pressed plywood bottom” when referring to a small table. That table was not old – just second-hand. I know what to look for when I look for quality furniture. You tip a piece over and look at its construction. When I called about having pieces of furniture reupholstered the first thing the man asked was how old a piece I was talking about.

There is no shame for me in having vintage things. As long as they are utilitarian, the things work for me. As I look around my home I cherish the things I have collected through the years. Unfortunately I have little to show from my husband’s side of the family. His great aunt Emmy did give us some special things and I cherish those as well. I used her buckets when I picked blackberries. I guess I am just a “Second-hand Rose”! Do you remember that song?

Ann Swanson writes from her home in Russell, Pa. Contact at