A yard sale find and hard work creates an heirloom for one mother’s ‘big girl’


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The stained headboard waiting to be prepped for the first coat of polyurethane. Photos courtesy Schmidt Publishing

I hadn’t planned on going rummaging. I didn’t have my copy of the classifieds with red circles around the places I wanted to hit and numbered with the planned order of attack. I didn’t have my maps spread out on the front seat beside me.

In fact, it was just a regular Thursday, and I had just picked up my oldest daughter from school. On my way out of town, I drove by a large rummage sale. It looked interesting, so my kids and I piled out of our green minivan and walked up the long driveway to the garage to check it out.

I didn’t have but a few dollars in cash in my pocket, so the first time we were there, I picked up a few old books: a Bible from 1890, The American Dictionary of the English Language and Compendium of Useful Knowledge from the mid-1800s, Harper’s Fifth Reader, and a copy of the National Fifth Reader Revised Edition.

I looked at on old chair painted avocado green whose seat was separating. I decided it would be too much work. I didn’t really need another chair for my “work on it” pile, as I already had five of them waiting for me, three of them floral press backs from around the 1920s. There was an old twin bed frame tucked in a corner on the floor between two book-laden tables.

I looked at the bed and thought maybe I could fix it up for my youngest daughter, but the kids were growing impatient, so I left. I started to drive away and then found myself driving back around the block. I pulled over and called my husband on my cell phone and said, “I found this bed; do you think I should get it?”

He is a good fellow in that, for the most part, he puts up with my special projects. He gave me grudging OK, but I could tell he thought I was going nuts. Well, I didn’t let that stop me.

I went back and made a deal for the bed. I took it home and started learning a bit about my newest project. It had some very old gum on the back that made me start to wonder about who the little imp was who had been sticking his or her gum along the back of the headboard in such a neat little row. I also noticed the number of the bed was stenciled on the back.

I decided that in order to keep my marriage in good standing, I had better get going on stripping the bed right away, so I did. It was a wood that I was unfamiliar with, and I could tell it was quite old. I loved the different tones in the wood. It had a great primitive look, and the wood was gorgeous.

I became even more curious about the bed while working for hours on getting the finish out of all the turnings. Or maybe it was just the fumes getting to me over time? In any event, I decided to track down the former owner and get some history on the bed.

I learned that it was the prior owner’s great-grandmother’s bed, which made it even older than I thought, dating from around the mid-1800s. I knew the style was a poster bed, so upon reflection this made sense. I went back and looked at the bed again for more clues and found that in addition to the number for the bed the letters “MAH” were stenciled on the back. The light bulb in my head went on: MAHOGANY. That was the mystery wood I had never worked on before, and it was in keeping with the time period of the bed that it could be mahogany. The straight grain and reddish hue backed up my theory.

Now I really love this bed. All the time I spent feeling glad I was not a dental hygienist scraping people’s teeth every day as I was cleaning all the finish out of the crevices of this bed melted away into a great appreciation of times past and wondering about those who came before me who slept in this beautiful bed.

Today, the bed is finally ready for its newest occupant: a very excited little four-year-old girl getting her first big-girl twin bed. I hope as she grows up with this bed she will appreciate its history and appreciate her own place in its existence. For me, it will forever be a project born out of love for my daughter and a love for this 150-year-old bed that was waiting to be occupied again with happy dreams. ?

Tracy L. Schmidt, owner of Schmidt Publishing & Creative Services, LLC,  is a freelance author, editor and indexer. She has more than 14 years experience in the field of antiques and collectibles and is currently working as a auction cataloger. Tracy may be reached at
tleaschmidt@hotmail.com.



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More Images:

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Applying the first coat of polyurethane to the legs of the bed.
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This picture shows what the whole bed looked like before I began refinishing it. You can see the written and stencil stenciled "112 MAH" on the back of the headboard. I actually left top the back slat of the headboard as is to help maintain the history of the bed. I hope this bed will be a treasured part of our family for many generations to come.
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One very happy four-year-old girl sits in her first 'big-girl bed.' After refinishing the entire frame and applying two thin coats of semi-gloss polyurethane, I hope this bed will be a treasured part of our family for many generations to come.

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