There’s no doubt our environment plays a huge role in determining who we are, but so do our genes. Seems to me that, if I had been born and raised in Eastern Europe or the Pacific Islands, there would have been a good chance that I wouldn’t have become a collector of old things. On the other hand, if my father had anything to say about it, antiques and artifacts would have been all around me even if we had lived at the Arctic Circle.
Robert Kelly loved the hunt, and he loved bringing old things back from the dead. Ask my mom, and she’ll tell you how my dad could spot an early 20th century oak dresser hidden under three layers of bad paint, from the car as they were still pulling up to a tag sale. That’s him to the left, happy as can be after my brother had just given him a dresser for Christmas, scoring huge points with the old man. That particular one looks as though it didn’t need much to get it back into service, but many was the hour my dad spent repairing, refinishing, and restoring dressers, tables, chairs, and electric fans.
And flashlights. Did he love old flashlights. He would show me his latest find with a grin on his face, demonstrating how a nine-inch Winchester made in the 1940s put out just as strong a beam as that new plastic job sitting in the closet. It got so he had me looking for these things at shows and tag sales, and they grew on me to the point where I now have a couple of them in my own collection, although I wish they were still a part of my dad’s collection.
He passed away three and a half years ago and there are days when I miss him so much that it’s like a physical ache. My mom tells me she feels that too; I lost one of my best friends, but she lost the love of her life. For the last couple of weeks, the two of us have been digging through bins and boxes, dusting off and pricing many of their antiques in preparation for selling them at a show this coming weekend. It’s been a revelation for me. Not every piece has a story behind it, but many of them do, and they often involve my parents digging the item out of the back of some dealer’s truck just after dawn at a show somewhere in New England, where they either got it for a song or paid more than they should have just because it would look great in their den.
The thing is, all of these wonderful stories involve both of them; I’ve yet to hear about my dad finding a great piece when he was off somewhere on his own. They did all of this together, and that brings these objects to life for me. I’m learning all over again that my parents truly were a team, best friends who loved each other and loved going after the old stuff.
We’re selling a lot of it, but of course we’re keeping the special pieces. There are several of my dad’s oak dressers doing daily duty in our house, and the flashlights my mom has given me work as well as they did when they were new. It’s a far cry from having him here. But somehow, it helps.
Oh, by the way Pop…that five-inch Royal with the square reflector has me stumped. What should we put on that one?
The “R” in Douglas R. Kelly is for Robert, his dad’s name. That must be why he’s hooked on the old stuff.