I had the opportunity to work on my family tree for a short time today. As I looked at the hints that Ancestry.com provides, and cleaned up profiles, I was delighted to come across photos of my great grandmother, Cynthia Ann Blevins McCool. My first name comes from this petite woman, creating a strong connection between us. Happily, my name is not the only thing I have of Grandma Cynthia’s. Her washstand is tonight’s Vintage Story.
The oak washstand, which my mother estimates to be at least 100 years old, has served in several ways through several generations.
Mom remembers the heavy piece of furniture being in her grandmother’s house when she was a young girl. At that time the washstand stood taller, on longer legs, and was pressed into service as an ice box. Back in the 1940s it was common to have a wooden cabinet that was used to hold perishable foods and a huge block of ice. Mom said Grandma Cynthia’s son would fetch the ice and place it in a metal container that was then stored in the ice box. Apparently the young man was somewhat forgetful and would often wander back home, after being sent to fetch the block of ice, empty handed.
Later, after Grandma got an electric refrigerator, the washstand was used to hold towels and linens. By the early 1960s, my mother had the cabinet in her possession. I remember the washstand, which was looking a bit battered by then, occupying different rooms in our Tulsa, Oklahoma house. During the 60s and 70s there was a home decor trend called antiquing. A dark base coat was used to cover a piece of wooden furniture, and then a top coat was applied. Using a sponge or a rag, the second coat of paint was partially wipe off, giving the furniture a “distressed” look. Mom antiqued the washstand, and for many years it was a dark green color.
In the mid 70s, Greg actually refinished the chest for my mom, using the same antiquing process, and changed the color from green to gold. When Mom and my stepdad moved to Arizona for a few years, the old washstand came to me, since I was Grandma Cynthia’s namesake. By then the drawer was falling apart and couldn’t be opened, and one of the doors on the front had broken in two. I was thrilled however to have a piece of furniture that belonged to my great grandmother. Fearing further damage, I covered the gold antiqued chest with a small table cloth and used it as a low table in various rooms in my house.
The fragile paper label on the back of the washstand, indicating it was part of a three piece suit of furniture. Unfortunately, there’s no company or manufacturer name. I couldn’t find any additional info about this piece online. The name JL Parker is also scrawled across the back in black ink. Mom does not recognize the name.
In 2010 Greg surprised me by completely stripping the old washstand and staining it with a dark finish, returning the chest to its original look. He repaired the drawer so that it opens and closes and rebuilt the damaged front door. I was beyond excited to see the finished washstand looking much as it must have when Grandma Cynthia owned it, other than being approximately six inches shorter. The washstand has a place of honor in the corner of my bedroom. I use the base to stash linens and lightweight blankets. The drawer is filled with small keepsakes and pieces of jewelry. I frequently change the vignettes on the top of the chest.
I think of my great grandmother whenever I dust the washstand surface or create a new vignette. Grandma Cynthia passed away in 1974. She was a life loving woman, with an infectious laugh and a fiery temper. She loved her family and going on adventures. That desire to travel and see the world has passed down to my mother, and to me, and now to my children and grandchildren. I think Cynthia Ann Blevins McCool would laugh with glee about that.
I love this vintage piece. What a history it’s had, as a practical washstand, an ice box, a funky antiqued chest, a simple table and now as a linen cabinet. It has passed through the women in my family and I will someday hand it on to one of my daughters, a sturdy reminder of the strength of love and family and endurance.