The Things Of The People Of Our Lives

Isn’t it odd how we associate certain people in our lives with particular objects. And how those objects (or similar ones) remind us of those people. We can see the thing and think of the person. Or see the person and think of the thing. I do not believe I am alone in making these kinds of associations.

A few days ago I was walking through the house of an old man who had died, helping his out-of-state relatives get an idea of what was there. A neighbor let me in and the first object I saw was an old electric fan. I immediately thought of my grandma. She lived in a small house in a small town and I was probably ten or twelve years old before she bought a window-mount air conditioner. Up to that time she kept the place cool(ish) during warm summer weather with a couple of old fans. One of them clearly dated to early in her married life and was still doing front-line service some thirty-five years on.

It was one of those fans that was designed and sold long before anyone ever thought of something called a Consumer Product Safety Commission. It featured a “guard” only in the loosest sense of the term – a few bent wires that were probably most effective at reminding those nearby that there was a fan here. My mother didn’t like that thing one bit and told me that it was dangerous. I imagined that children getting their fingers and noses hacked off by fans such as these must have been a common occurrence in “the olden days”, and asked my grandma once if they had been considered dangerous back when. I never forgot her response: “No, because kids used to mind.”

She sort of had a point. Although I don’t think the tendency “to mind” was so much about respect for parental authority as respect for the laws of nature. Or maybe a quick mental calculation of costs and benefits. Anyway, I have never since seen one of those old electric fans without remembering my Grandma and the high opinion she held of childrens’ obedience back in her day.

In the 1980’s when classic leather furniture started to come back into vogue, I would occasionally see (in person or in advertising) an easy chair and ottoman upholstered in the kind of rich, dark red leather that made it look like it belonged in some old-school Gentlemens’ Club (from a time before that term came to mean something else entirely that had nothing to do with actual gentlemen). When I was a kid my Uncle John had such a chair which seemed to me to be his place of refuge and relaxation, where he could read his newspaper unbothered by the noise and bustle that might have been going on elsewhere in the house.

This is not precisely my Uncle John’s chair, but one close enough for present purposes – his looked so much more “experienced” and comfortable.

I would sit in that chair occasionally and recall promising myself that when I was grown I would own such a chair. Somehow or other my prize has eluded me, and I am realistic enough to know that there will have to be some decorating changes made at JP Manor if such a dream is to be realized. But the perfect red leather club chair still exists quietly in a corner of my mind, and it is forever linked to my Uncle John, who was an amazing guy in his quiet, unassuming way.

This brings me to another object that has been on my mind and made me think about this subject. Another Aunt and Uncle had a car when I was young that became a favorite of mine. I have always been unnaturally drawn to cars and if I have known you in person there will almost certainly be a particular car that reminds me of you (or you will remind me of it). The family of my cousin Dave owned a maroon 1964 Ford for a long time. It was only two or three years old when they bought it and it stayed in daily service into the early 1970’s. By that time the family had newer, nicer cars, but my cousin Dave liked that old Ford the best, for reasons I no longer remember.

Much to my chagrin, I could not find the right car in the right color online. Because I am obsessed with such things, it has to be right. The car was a 4 door pillarless hardtop like the top photo, but it was painted in the color of the wagon below. It is rare that the internet has failed me in looking for a particular car/color combination.

It is a mystery why one person can be so drawn to another, but for the first several years of my life Dave was the one I latched onto like glue whenever our families got together – which was odd because there was about six years difference between us and there were younger cousins who were closer to my age. Maybe I admired him for being many of the things I was not. I was quiet and shy, but Dave was loud and funny and always the center of attention. I recall getting him in trouble a couple of times, like the time when I was a 5 or 6 year old at their family’s dinner table and referred to one of their neighbors as “the old bitch” after spending the day out and about with Dave. His mother knew exactly how I had thought to identify her in that way. Dave’s defense was to seek refuge in the truth (“Well, she is . . . “). He took more care later to warn me not to repeat some of the things that came out of his mouth (warnings that were not infrequent) but he never got upset with me.

After he got his drivers license and he had somewhere to go he never failed to invite me along if I was around and I soaked up the company and the aura of that maroon Ford which I found so appealing, even when it was a rusty beater with tears in the upholstery and with no hubcaps. Or maybe that was why I found it so appealing – that it was the opposite of the respectable cars driven by all of the respectable people in my life.

Two things happened this past week that brought this association to mind. The first one was that I received word that my cousin Dave had died. Those closer to him knew he had been ill, but as often happens we had not been in touch for a long time, and I was shocked to hear the news. I remembered times spent as a child when I would follow him everywhere, and times spent as an adolescent riding with him in that rusty, worn-out 1964 Ford.

The second thing that happened is the really odd one. Over at the CurbsideClassic.com site where I still periodically contribute, a picture was posted without comment. It had been a random contribution from a reader and the editor found something worthwhile in the photo’s composition. As you can guess, I saw something else when I saw the shot of a badly damaged, weathered and long abandoned maroon 1964 Ford with a cross on the hood. Requiescat in pace, Dave.

Photo credits:

c. 1930 General Electric fan formerly offered for sale at flyingtigerantiques.com

Red leather chair offered for sale by colemanfurniture.com

Split photo of 1964 Fords, from the 1964 Ford brochure from oldcarbrochures.org (top) and by the author (bottom)

Final photo by Don Kincl and published at curbsideclassic.com

15 thoughts on “The Things Of The People Of Our Lives

  1. I bought myself that leather chair in 2013 when I got a bonus at my first startup job. I wanted a club chair with an ottoman, but the most comfortable chair I found happened to be a recliner. I recommend it if you can ever swing it.

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  2. I think I was about five, when my cousin was going to drive from Windsor Ont to Nova Scotia to see some relatives, and my Mom and I decided to go along for the ride. She picked us up in Toronto in her 1959 Ford Galaxie. I became forever enamoured with those cars. Along the way, we boarded the car ferry at Levis PQ for what she thought was a one hour ride, but when it turned out to be only ten minutes, my cousin was nowhere to be found. The longshoremen had to push the car off the ferry, leaving my Mom and me on the dock awaiting my cousin’s arrival. I was sobbing in tears thinking I might never see her again, and that I would be stranded on that dock forever. I held on to the big round taillight of that car for dear life awaiting her return. She had only gone to get a coffee and everything was soon back to order.

    I lost another cousin last year, just before COVID, Donald was in his late 70s I am guessing. As a youngster I had recorded his voice on my reel to reel tape recorder. I still have the cassette that I converted over of that sound.

    I am sorry to hear you lost a cousin recently. I have several, eighteen or so, and they are mostly older than me. Another, Patrick, who passed last year, was one I never met. Such is life, it is indeed too short. My condolences.

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    • The only 59 Ford I had in my life belonged to my mother’s Aunt Cora and Uncle Roy – we visited them in California with my Grandma in 1965 and Uncle Roy drove a medium green and white 59 Ford sedan. I never met them again, but that 59 Ford popped into my head whenever their names were mentioned. So I can visualize perfectly you and that big taillight!

      Thank you for the condolences, and I offer the same to you. That’s a problem with being one of the younger ones in the group, I suspect I will experience this a few more times as the years go on.

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  3. I’m a vulture–I feed on the remains of the dead. I go to garage and estate sales and go through the prized possessions of people who have passed away. I therefore learn about their personal lives–people I never knew. Typically the heirs couldn’t care less about most of the stuff, and it gets scattered to the four winds. A lot of it gets thrown out. So all these objects that are familiar to us–furniture, clothing, tools, dishes, books, and yes, even cars–cherish and appreciate them now. A thousand years from now (which will someday come), all these things will be considered rare, exotic, and hard for people of that time to relate to.

    P.S.: I own two fans like the one pictured. One has six brass blades, and patent dates in the 20th century ‘teens. It’s so heavy that you could hang it from a chain and use it to demolish buildings! 100 years old and it still works perfectly. Just don’t stick your finger through the guard into the moving blades! (No warning label). Meanwhile, quite a few things I’ve purchased new in the last few years are broken already . . .

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    • You speak truth. One of the saddest moments of my life was when I helped a friend clean out his mother’s house. He had no other living relatives – he had been the only child of two only children, something that was uncommon in that generation. His mother had been fastidious about caring for her things. The problem was that my friend had offered everything in the house to his wife’s extended family and then to me. What was left (and there was a lot of it) we loaded into a rental truck and hauled to the dump. Watching these beautifully-maintained items being thrown into big piles on that cold, cloudy day was really heartbreaking. I suppose he could have called an auctioneer to pick it all up and sell it, but he didn’t think any of it was worth anything.

      I too love those opportunities – but I am reaching the point in life (some would say I have passed it) when I need to be moving things out of my house instead of into it.

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  4. Those fans must have been a grandma thing, as I remember mine having some ancient thing too and being cautioned about not sticking your fingers in it. She never had air conditioning until she moved off her farm, and the fan sat on top of a long deep freezer in the kitchen. There was always a cat curled up on the freezer too, but it must have known to keep it’s tail well away from the fan! Lovely memories, JP, and sorry for the loss of your cousin.

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  5. You’ve mentioning the fans and children minding dredged up a long forgotten memory…

    Years ago my grandmother (who will be 100 in March, just to give perspective) had this huge window fan that was easily 1950s vintage. At the time her house did not have a/c, so she used this 36″ (or thereabouts) metal bladed fan in the middle of any given room. The blades were not covered in any way, shape, or form. I steered very clear of this fan at all times. Naturally, it was set to high and created tornado like conditions in the room.

    One time she went to move it. By picking it up just under the front lip. While running. Like she always did. This time, her depth perception was off. With a sickening “whap, whap, whap” she quickly pulled her fingers out. Her long fingernails had gotten tangled up with the blades. Nary a drop of blood but she was obviously in pain.

    She got really quiet and I never saw that fan again after that visit.

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    • It is kind of amazing that the human race managed to survive the industrial revolution. Isn’t that a kind of universal kind of reasoning – if something has never happened before it will never happen at all? “Sure, everyone says its dangerous but that’s just because they’re not being careful.” Until one day the tune changes to “Damn”. It is fortunate that your grandmother got by with not much more than a fingernail trimming. But then we have gone to the opposite extreme now, where the safety instructions on any given product outnumber the operation instructions by a factor of 10.

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  6. Funny how we associate things with people. I remember the turquoise Mercury Monterey that friends of our family had. I loved riding in that car, and every time I see a similar vehicle, I think of that sweet old couple.

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  7. The old metal fan has a distinct memory for me, though my grandmother’s fan had a cage of some fashion over the blades but I remember it whirring in the corner in a feeble attempt to cool the kitchen while I was being told to keep my fingers and ponytail from the fan! I have some photos I took outside of a small antiques store that opened in my City. I’m saving the photos for a Wordless Wednesday post, but front and center in the window is the fan I remember at my grandmother’s house. My grandfather had a short, squat stool with a well-worn leather cushion. I never understood why he didn’t sit comfortable on a couch or chair when he parked himself in front of the TV to watch hockey or “rasslin'” at the Maple Leaf Gardens instead of folded down and almost on the ground on that stool. The week had you dredging up some good memories, though unfortunately there was a loss in your family as well and sorry to hear of the loss of your cousin Dave.

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