That is not to say we didn’t have furniture previously, but we hadn’t actually used money to collect any of the pieces we have so far.
First, there was Clarence the Couch, who was olive green and stuffed with whatever they used to fill couches in the early 70s. He was extremely comfortable and could seat up to 6 people if the people really liked each other. Clarence had previously lived with my college roommate’s grandfather and had been lovingly donated to help us furnish our first non-dorm residence our senior year. It lived with my husband and his roommate the following year, then in my apartment when I lived solo the year before marriage, and it eventually became the first couch Luke and I used in our first apartment after we got married in 2008.
We moved up in the world of furniture when the neighbor of a member of our Sunday school class was giving away a gold-trimmed, cerulean-blue couch that was probably born around 1992. With back cushions removed, it was as wide as a twin bed and long enough for any NBA basketball player to sleep comfortably. This one, we named “The Bernstein Bears Couch” because its hue was reminiscent of the famous bears’ home décor. Albeit cumbersome, it was the perfect solution to accommodate guests in the one-bedroom apartment that housed our second year of marriage. Clarence the Couch, meanwhile, went back to live with family in his old age and currently resides with the younger brother of that college roommate I mentioned earlier.
In our most recent and most oddly shaped living room, we have foregone the couch idea altogether in favor of space-saving recliners. One is a hand-me-down from Luke’s grandmother, and the other is a double hand-me-down, acquired from another former roommate, who, sadly, did not record its genealogy further into history. In this new setup, the Bernstein Bears couch had to be relinquished and was passed on to my really tall cousin. I think this could be the beginning of a long-lasting relationship between him and the hand-me-down lifestyle.
Although the current living room lacks couch-appropriate space, it lends itself very nicely to the presence of a bookshelf. As avid readers and collectors of books, we decided a bookshelf qualified to be our first real furniture purchase. The perfect living room library. We could practically see it. So we marched into a furniture store wielding a debit card and found, right there, on the showroom floor…nothing. We repeated this process not once, not twice, but at least six times before deciding to build rather than buy. (I imagine this is what some homebuyers-to-be experience as they are tempted by the homebuilders’ commercials during their morning news.)
We enlisted the help of my father-in-law, who assisted us with blueprints and then accompanied us to Lowe’s to advise us about wood types and varnish colors. We had to make a lot of decisions. We had to choose the right stain color and determine how many shelves and how high each one would be. We then spent several weekends cutting, sanding, nailing, sanding, gluing, sanding, filling holes, and sanding the bookshelf. As a finishing touch before we started the staining process, we decided to use Luke’s dad’s old cattle iron to brand a capital B in the back of the shelf. Then we stained and varnished and declared the project perfect. Finally complete, we brought it home.
We pulled all of our books out of their residence in storage tubs and began sorting. All the books that belonged in a series went in one stack, general fiction in another. Reference, religion, and old yearbooks were each separated into their own area of the living room, and we began to worry that we had too many books to fit the case after all. We ceremoniously placed the carefully chosen first titles on the shelf and then began working through the stacks. As our piles began to diminish, we realized that we had plenty of room and in fact were not able to fill the entire case.
With two spare shelves on the bottom of the bookcase, we immediately determined that we need to continue to build our collection. This means good news for us, that our book-scavenging days are not over for lack of space. I love the new bookshelf, but I also respect the hand-me-downs that fill our house. Just like the books we are collecting to fill our shelves, those pieces are part of our story, part of the memories and adventures we’ve shared in every place we have lived. Though we hope to eventually replace most of the furniture with new items, the bookshelf is solid and lasting and one that we will have the honor of “handing down” someday.