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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Heirlooms and Research: Priceless Gifts From Grandma

Over the weekend, I had the privilege and honor of picking up my grandmother's vanity and bringing it home to take residence in my bedroom. I had my work cut out for me as I spent long hours cleaning it and polishing it up, but it was worth every minute.

As a child, I had many unforgettable memories sitting behind this vanity. If we were at my grandmother's house (which in those days was quite often) you could find me and my cousins at this gorgeous piece of furniture putting on grandma's bright pink and red lipstick or splashing on gobs of her cologne. No one was safe from getting all dolled up. Even my younger male cousins were susceptible to our relentless beauty make-overs. Unfortunately, I don't have a photo to prove it, so you'll just have to take my word for it.

On the furniture itself, you can see why I love it so much by the intricate carvings rounding the mirrors and base, to the antique drawer pulls decorating the face. It really is a work of art by itself, but knowing this once belonged to my dear, beloved grandmother, Lorraine, makes it twice as precious.

Lorraine lived a vibrant life and one of the things she loved to do was travel. She went to so many interesting places in the US and I once remember the list she made of all the places she'd visited. I was astounded and even a little bit jealous as some were on my bucket list to see.

One such place was the Stave church of Rapid City, South Dakota which was erected and completed in 1969 as an exact replica of the Stave church in Borgund, Norway. I have always wanted to journey and immerse myself in this cultural landmark. To my utter dismay, my grandmother had already been there.

The way this story came about was pretty amazing. One day, I was visiting her in her apartment and she asked about how my book was going. (This would be the blood, sweat, and tears compilation I like to call Ræliksen.) I told her "it was going" but the research is pretty intense as I wanted to make sure EVERYTHING was accurate for its time in 10th century Ireland. She generously offered to help me with the research as she said, and I quote, "I know a few Irish folk." Trying not to laugh, I expressed my thanks but explained that I doubt she knew any Irish folk in 916 AD when the Vikings were making their "rounds."

"Vikings, huh?" she muttered, a cute spark lighting up her eyes. "I have some information on Vikings."

Disbelief ran rampant through me. "You do?"

"Yeah, look in that drawer," she said, pointing to a cabinet near her kitchen. "I went to one of their Stave churches and I think there's some history in the pamphlet you could use."

Sure enough, the pamphlet and all its history (both on the one in South Dakota and in Norway) existed. I think my jaw dropped as I leafed through it. While I didn't necessarily NEED that kind of information for my book research, it was certainly an OMG moment.

She told me to take it with me and use it as I needed it for my book. Looking back, I know my grandmother felt she'd just aided me in a profound way when it came to something as important as writing my first romance novel. I was content to let her think that. The excitement that lit up her face as she talked about the church and how she was able to walk inside was absolutely beautiful. I will never forget that day or the way she made me feel. My only regret is that I never got to go to the church myself while she was still alive, so we could sit together and talk about it.

To this day, I have that pamphlet. It's reverently tucked amongst all my other countless Viking research books and I can't help but think of her every time I glance over it on my shelf in my office.

So, what about you? Are there any objects or heirlooms that hold a special sentiment for you as you've conducted thorough research for your romance novels? Have you brought any of those objects to life in your books? I'd love to hear your stories.

Renee Vincent


Rose Anderson said...

What a gorgeous piece of furniture. :)

Krista Ames said...

Love the antique piece and what a wonderful story about your grandmother. Thanks for sharing your memories!

Jennifer McGowan said...

What a fabulous blog and GORGEOUS vanity! Thank you for sharing this story !

Vonda Sinclair said...

Fantastic post, Renee! I enjoyed seeing the vanity and learning about your grandmother. I also have an antique dresser passed down from my grandparents.

Maddie James said...

I love the vanity! You did a great job, Renee. I have a antique trunk that my grandmother gave to me, and it belonged originally to her grandmother. I remember digging through all the stuff that was in it in her attic. precious memories. One day one of my granddaughters will get it, I am sure.

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Thanks Rose! It looks so amazing in my bedroom.

My pleasure, Krista. I even cried a little as I wrote this blog, thinking of my dear grandmother.

Thank YOU for stopping by, Jennifer! So sweet of you to visit me.

Oh how cool, Vonda! I would love to see it.

Thanks Maddie. And I can only imagine the fun and memories that came from that special trunk. Is that the one you have in your bedroom? (I'm going totally by memory and it might be failing me)

Debbie Haupt said...

Renee, what a great memory and memento you have from your Grandmother. My dad's mom was also like that, she loved to travel and did all over the world, she even went to Russia before the wall came down and at times when we'd be chatting she'd do the same thing tell me exactly where to find something that reminded her of our conversation.
I have a quilt from her, an emerald ring that my Grandfather made for her, her china cabinet and other small mementos and a life worth of memories that are priceless.
Thank you for sharing

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

So amazing Debbie. Having those special heirlooms is very important, if not just downright cool! Thanks for stopping by and sharing your story. I love when others share in the discussion. So thanks for being here with me.

Molly Daniels said...

I love it! One of my dreams was to one day resurrect my grandmother's vanity. It had been disassembled after she moved to Florida and my mother used the two end pieces as nightstands. The center part was on Mom's dresser, and the mirror resided in our front room. But before I moved into my house, Mom had sold the mirror and gotten rid of the two end pieces. I was crushed.

But when my MIL died, I inherited her smaller vanity and look forward to the day when I can actually USE it. Right now, my hubby's clothes are on top of it, due to lack of closet space.

Laurie said...

That's a gorgeous piece of furniture. Your Grandma sounded like a great lady

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Molly, that sounds so neat! One of these days YOU MUST resurrect it and post a pic! You've peaked my interest big time!
Thanks for visiting with me and sharing your story.

She was a great lady, Laurie. Thanks for stopping by!

Nina Pierce said...

The vanity is absolutely gorgeous. I love old pieces of furniture especially when they have such a wonderful connection to someone special.

I have dishes from my grandmothers on either side and I love using them and thinking of the special dinners they shared with their families.

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Oh love old dishes, especially when they're from someone special in the family. Such a nice thing to have, Nina. I have a set of old dishes that I acquired over the years at flee markets until I could put the whole set together. Not as special dishes from grandmother, like yours, but I'll take it.

Jena Lang said...

That is a beautiful vanity and a very sweet story. Your grandma sounds like she was a wonderful lady. And you look great with blonde hair!

jean hart stewart said...

Have memories of my grandmother and her superstitions that now sound amusing. For instance, she wouldn't allow root beer in the house because you couldn't convince her it was alcoholic.

Nicole Morgan said...

What a great and sweet post! Thanks for sharing that, Renee!

Cara Marsi said...

What a nice tribute to your grandmother. The vanity is beautiful. I have antique hurricane lamps that belonged to my maternal grandmother. I think of her every time I look at them. Your grandmother sounds like a wonderful person.

I've never used any old family stories in my books, although a chapter in one of my books is set in the small village in Italy where my grandparents were raised.

Anonymous said...

First off Renee, you're cute with blonde hair. You'd be cute with green hair. You're one of those people that's cute no matter what.

Second, OMG! That vanity is gorgeous! And believe it or not, I have something similar. Well, the wood color is the same and it's probably from the same period. The flourish at the top of the mirror is the same, I believe, and the drawer pulls are definitely the same. My mirror is round and etched on the sides, and the wood frame around it, up at the top anyway, is carved.

Unfortunately, mine isn't in as good condition as yours. The mirror is fine, but the lower part is a bit beat up and the metal (or whatever it is) on a couple of the drawer pulls are rusted or corroded. I think one of them may be broken.

Mine isn't a hand-me-down from anyone. It was sitting in an old farmers barn for years, and when he passed away, his adult children (one of which is a friend of my mom's) found it. No one wanted it. My mom and her friend were talking about it one day when I was around, and I jumped up and said, "I'll take it! I want it!" Now it's mine.

Lovely story about your grandma. Such nice memories. Now I need to find tissue. You made me cry.

vicki batman said...

Hi, Renee! You are one very lucky girl to get the vanity and don't you just love knowing it had been your grandmothers?

I have one grandmother's old wrought iron bed. Another's prize winning sweater. A friend's sewing cabinet. And lately, some handbags.

I do a lot of needlepoint and some are made into pillows. I have already told sons to not send them to thrift stores. lol

Catherine Castle said...

I, too, have a vanity that belonged to my grandmother. She called it the writing desk, and when I visited for weeks at a time in the summer, she would sit me down at the vanity, with pen and paper, and instruct me to write a letter to my mother back home in Cincy. Your vanity also looks a lot like the one my mother had in her bedroom. That inlaid veneer is gorgeous!

Paris said...


Thank you for sharing your wonderful story. It brought back some wonderful memories of my Grandma "Cookie". I can remember all of the pretty perfume atomizers that used to top her vanity and the faint, powdery scent that lingered from her dusting powder. I haven't used them in any of my stories--yet!

Melissa Keir said...

What a beautiful piece of furniture. I love that you have so many memories behind it and will always love and cherish it. I have a needlepoint chair that was in my grandmother's living room. George and Martha Washington were needlepointed on the backs. I also have the old audio tapes my grandmother made of stories we told together. Those things are priceless.

Marianne Stephens said...

I remember having one similar to the one you have...and handed down from my grandmother. Sadly, I don't know what happened to it. Probably some other extended family member has it now.
I have my grandmother's cedar chest...old and has one of the old fashioned big key locks. I'll never part with it and it will go to my oldest daughter when I die.
The memories of our past family members keeps our heritage alive. Having something they had only makes that bond stronger.

Virginia C said...

Great story & photos! Thanks so much for sharing. I wouldn't be the person I am today without my Gran. She taught me so much! I know you will treasure your keepsake : )

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Jena: Ha! Those were the days when I didn't have so much gray in my hair and could keep it blonde. Those days are over now though. LOL Thanks for reading my blog, sweetie!

Jean: That is hilarious! It's so cute how innocent and naive grandmothers can be. Thanks for sharing.

Nicole: Aww...thanks. I'm so glad you could make it and read my story. I appreciate it thoroughly!

Cara: That is really neat that you used the village your grandparents grew up in as your setting. I love hurricane lamps...what a neat thing to have as a keepsake.

Casey: Seeing your face in this discussion is the best! Thanks for stopping by and promoting it as well. YOu're the best, hon. On the fact of me looking cute with any hair color...well, that's just the sweetest!
I can't believe we almost have the same vanity! How cool! I'd love to see a pic of it...

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Vicki: Oh wow, a wrought iron bed! That is so neat!!! And hey, come to think of it, I have a old Singer sewing machine with all kinds of paisley designs on it that is VERY old from my MIL. Can't recall where she got it....I will have to ask now.
Thanks for sharing your story!!!

Catherine: I know! I can't believe the awesome condition its in. And I love the story you told about your grandmother's vanity being a writing desk....what a great memory!

Paris: Happy birthday! And yes, I can still recall that pungent smell of perfume and powder too...what a great image you provided. Thanks for stopping by on your special day!

Melissa K: Oh to be able to hear my grandmother's voice would be amazing. That is so special to have your grandmother on audio. I can only imagine the great stories she told. Definitely a keeper!

Marianne: You said it, doll. And what a neat thing to have - her cedar chest. I too have some old skeleton keys that opened doors in my great uncle's house that he built. It still stands but of course the door locks were all changed now that someone else lives there.

Virginia: I know how special your Gran is to you. And I thank the day I met you and that I know those special things about you. Thanks for visiting with me. It means the world to me.

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

I think my comment avatar pic is back...this is me just don't mind the woman behind the curtain haha

Màiri Norris said...

Renee, they don't make furniture that beautiful anymore. So lovely, as is your (sniff, sniff) sweet story about your grandma and her pleasure at being a part of your book. Family is so important.

Becke Davis said...

I love this post, Renee! Your grandmother sounds like quite a woman, which doesn't surprise me AT ALL!

Renee Vincent / Gracie Lee Rose said...

Thanks so much Màiri! And yes, it's so is never this gorgeous anymore, or as sturdy.
Thanks for visiting with me. are doll, Becke! Thanks for stopping by and sharing in the discussion. I miss you so much!

Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

What a wonderful tribute to your dear grandmother, Renee. She just looks like a person you would want to hug. :)

Yes, I do have a great heirloom - as you've no doubt heard about my great, great grandfather's journal that he kept coming across the country on a wagon train in 1849. I did indeed put a lot of what he saw into my story. I have a copy of it. The originial is kept under glass in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkely and is considered five star. The beautiful part of it is his handwriting. It is so pretty and so amazing as he was a doctor. ;)

Thanks for sharing your grandma with us. I am fairly certain my grandma had the same piece of furniture, or at least close to it. She was Danish and had very long gray hair that she would braid and wrap aroung the back of her hear. I spent countless hours watching her do it. I always thought it a ritual. :)

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