Once upon a time, Dee had a widowed grandmother who lived in a modest little house in Foat Wuth, Texas. It was a house built by the work of her hands, paid for with the income from her lifelong work as a seamstress. What it may have lacked in size it made up for in years of family memories.
Nanny lived in that house until a dramatic decline in her health around Thanksgiving of 1987, when she was rendered insensate by the double whammy of a simultaneous heart attack and stroke. We wouldn’t have given odds on her surviving the week, but Nanny was a tough old bird who managed to hang on for over four years, even outliving my own mother.
Among the furnishings she left behind was a 1946 Chambers B-Model gas stove. We arranged to have it shipped to our home in Houston, and eventually it found its way to Atlanta with us, where it has resided ingloriously in our basement for the past eighteen years.
A few days ago, Dee had a decorating brainstorm. We had just converted our sunroom into a casual dining room, and there was an empty space near the eastern windows that cried out to be filled. What about the old Chambers stove? she suggested.
Her idea put me in a bit of a quandary. On the one hand, the old stove would be perfect for the place she had in mind for it, and with a little elbow grease and cleanser it would look good as (almost) new. Not bad for a seventy-year-old appliance. But on the other hand, I knew that it would be a serious job of work to schlep that massive stove up from the basement. We were talking about a massive chunk of cast iron and porcelain weighing something on the order of four hundred pounds.
And we did it.
Aside from Dee, credit goes to Gym Jim, my personal trainer, and to Home Depot - the former for extra muscles to supplement mine, the latter for the strap dolly we used to horse the damned thing up our front steps. (We dodged the need to go up the basement stairs by rolling it outside at ground level, across the side yard and out to the street.)
Once we got that big boy settled in its spot, we had to partially dismantle it to replace the old wiring for the lamps on either side of the backsplash: The old wiring’s insulation had literally crumbled with age. As soon as the everything was reassembled and new bulbs installed, we plugged it in. Success!
The Family Heirloom: a 1946 Chambers B-Model gas stove. The canisters were handed down from Dee’s great-grandmother and sat atop that selfsame stove back when it belonged to her Nanny.
No, we have no plans to hook this baby up to the gas supply. But it would be a formidable appliance were we to do so. It has three surface burners plus a deep well burner for slow-cooking soups, sauces, and stews; it also has a built-in griddle. And man, is it solid. They really don’t make household appliances this substantial any more.
I’m not entirely sure that this was a coincidence, but the day after we put the Chambers stove in its new upstairs home was the forty-first Yahrzeit of Dee’s sister. After remembering Polly at morning Minyan, we and a group of good friends came back to our house for a special breakfast - a breakfast in the presence of Nanny’s old stove. Polly had known that stove well - it was the source of so many of Nanny’s family dinners all those decades ago. I like to think that she was looking down upon us from her residence in the World to Come and getting a little bit of nostalgic joy from seeing it again - a Family Heirloom sculpted in cast iron and porcelain.