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Essays by Karen Anderson: Antique Commode

Illustration by Kacie Brown

In a corner of my living room sits an antique wooden cabinet which we’ve always called the “commode.” It was originally designed as a washstand with an elegant marble top for a pitcher of water and a cupboard underneath for a chamber pot.

Fortunately, I grew up in a world without chamber pots, so the commode has served many other purposes. There’s a story that it came from Scotland with my great grandfather, but no one is alive who can verify. I remember it first from the attic bedroom of the family cottage—where my cousins and I used it as a vanity table to stash hairbrushes and ribbons.

When the cottage was sold, the commode came to my mother and she kept her jewelry in the long drawer. Every evening before my father came home from work, she dressed up for his arrival—and invited me to pick out her necklace and earrings.

Now, in my own house, the commode holds dishes and candles, plus a set of tiny wine glasses too fragile to use. Mostly it holds memories—and mysteries about where it came from and where it will go from here.

I am reminded how our things outlast us, which I find reassuring and unsettling at once. One day, I will be gone and the antique commode will remain—keeping, perhaps, a fragrance of candles.

Karen Anderson contributes "Essays by Karen Anderson" to Interlochen Public Radio.