The tale of a travelling china cabinet

Aug 12, 2016 | 10 comments |

Moving vanThis week, a moving van arrived at my home. It brought a china cabinet that’s been in my mother’s family since the mid-nineteenth century.

In the furniture world, the cabinet is a stately dowager duchess or grizzled elder statesman. Made of solid wood, it sits on substantive claw feet and features a mirrored shelf and impressive curved glass door and sides.

From an Ottawa Valley farm at the end of the First World War, my grandmother remembered it being taken south by horse and wagon to her family’s new home in a town by the St. Lawrence River across from Upstate New York. In quick succession it saw both her wedding and her father’s wake.

It journeyed north again to Ontario’s Rideau Valley in the late 1940’s. This time it travelled by truck along a new “King’s Highway.” Over the years, it was part of family Christmases, church gatherings, wedding celebrations and funeral sorrows.

When my grandmother moved into senior’s housing, the cabinet passed to my mother and, in the late 1970’s, travelled over a thousand miles to western Canada. Loaded into a moving truck, it lumbered along a two-lane highway through a landscape that was largely a wilderness frontier.

The cabinet sat in a corner of my parents’ living room and displayed cherished collectables on doilies spun as fine as spider’s webs. Despite my mother’s regular admonitions to “be careful of the glass,” it was the backdrop to most family events and group photos.

After Mom’s sudden death, it was hard to look at the cabinet that had been such a part of her life and family. The pain was too fresh and memories too raw. When I packed up the china and glassware, the cabinet stood empty like a gaping wound of loss.

Time has healed, memories now bring comfort and it was time for the cabinet to travel back on that thousand miles plus of highway to Ontario, again in a moving van through that same north-country wilderness.

China cabinetLike the women before me, I worried about how the cabinet would survive its journey. Yet, when the movers eased it through my front door and took off the layers of protective wrap, the curved glass and mirrored shelf winked back as they’ve done for generations. 

The cabinet is now in my living room, as solid and unchanging as I remember it from childhood, and a tangible link with a past and people I cherish.

Flat-packed furniture and home decorating trends are as fleeting as the seasons. At 150 years and counting, my cabinet graces the twenty-first century with aplomb.

It’s not for only one season of my life. It’s forever.


  1. Cindy Hamilton

    Beautiful story about your gorgeous china cabinet! I love treasured memories like this.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Cindy. I’m glad you enjoyed this story and appreciate your support of my blog.

  2. Jennifer Wilck

    I love this. It’s been through every part of all of your lives for generations. What a wonderful heirloom!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Thanks, Jennifer. I love it too and am so pleased to have it in my home.

  3. Arlene McFarlane

    Such a beautiful post, Jen. I’m glad you’re ready to see the china cabinet in fondness instead of pain. I know too well that pain of seeing an object that was once so special to someone. Cherish your family heirloom. I’m sure it will bring back many many good memories. Hugs.

    • Jen Gilroy

      Hugs in return, Arlene, and thanks for commenting and sharing. I appreciate you know that pain too well. Grief is hard but, as I’ve learned, walking through the “fire” of the grieving process can help bring healing. I’m glad you enjoyed the post.

  4. Sue Bavin

    What a beautiful piece of furniture, Jen, and also a wonderful piece of family history. I’m so glad that you didn’t decide to part with the cabinet when you lost your mum. I’m sure many people would have done that. But now you are able to enjoy the cabinet all over again and savour those treasured memories.

    • Jen Gilroy

      When I lost my mum, I decided to not make any sudden decisions. In retrospect, that was the best thing I could have done. And I’m so happy to have the cabinet (and other special family pieces) in my new home in Canada. Thanks, as always, for your support and commenting.

  5. Jean Bull

    Your story struck a chord, because when my mother died I sold the family cabinet; there was no room for it in the house where we lived. Fast forward 14 years and we bought a new modern one, but one that was strongly built in oak and may hopefully be passed down to future generations!

    • Jen Gilroy

      Almost missed this comment, Jean. I’m glad my story resonated with you. Hope your new cabinet becomes a future family heirloom to cherish. It will be mum’s and granny’s cabinet for your children and grandchildren.


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