Thursday, March 31, 2011

Carpetbagged

Another one of my past pieces for Old House Interiors...

I had been staring at the squiggle for a good half-hour, trying to figure out just What On Earth it represented. The abstract, jigsaw-puzzle shape the size of an outstretched hand had been cut from curly maple and then inlaid into the center of a mahogany banquet table. The piece had belonged to a famous southern senator who had served in the latter part of the 19th century, and was now prominently displayed in his homestead,

I was in central Georgia on a historic carpet consultation, as I help provide Wilton, Brussels and Axminster carpets to house museums and state capitols. Over the years, my job has taken me across the country many times, and I gleefully carom between Very Important Houses and remote hamlets that barely merited a dot on the map. On today’s journey, the irony of the fact that I was a New Englander bearing Civil War-era carpets whilst traveling from Atlanta to Savannah was not lost on anyone in the room.

Obviously, these folks thought that this was a mighty important squiggle, as it was the focal point of a massive piece of furniture. Was it…a shark? The upper part looked like a dorsal fin, but then, it also had a front leg…

This was hardly my first journey to the South, but typically, I was in cities that while they proudly proclaimed their Southern heritage, didn’t seem all that different from their cousins north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Yes, the populace’s various accents were distinctive, with some more lilting than others, and a few of the restaurant chains were new to me, but the most noticeable customs I encountered were that “tea” was served cold unless otherwise specified, and that it was easy to get a restaurant table on a Wednesday evening, as most everyone else was in church.

Nodding and smiling at my host, I continued to study the squiggle out of the corner of my eye. Maybe it was upside down…was it a Scottie? Why a Scottie? Were they the state dog of Georgia? And it looked like it was vaulting over an invisible fence for some reason…

On a previous call, 75 miles west of here, a client and her contractor were discussing an itinerant tradesman’s work and had referred to him as a “Yankee”; suddenly realizing that I would be included in this geographic Venn diagram, she looked at me and said apologetically, “no offense meant…”

I had replied, “None taken; my grandparents all fled Eastern Europe around 1900; none of us were here in 1861, so it wasn’t our war.”

Even as a native Bostonian, I’ve never considered myself a Yankee; that was someone whose family had lived there for at least 300 years and could speak without moving their jaw. The only other kind of Yankee was that infamous baseball team from New York, and no sane person would ever confuse Us with Them.

What WAS this thing? Had someone immortalized a Rohrshach test? Was Rohrshach from Georgia? There was something vaguely familiar about the shape, or at least sections of it, but I just wasn’t getting it…

We finished our discussion about reproducing the carpet for the room; it had been a pleasant call, as they usually were. I’m a preservationist at heart, and the chance to visit another old building was always exciting. I was often distracted by the stained glass, fancy mantels and furnishings that were unique to my prospective client’s building and carpet sales became secondary.

I stood to leave, and gathering my samples, clasped my host’s hand. As I stepped from the room, I turned, and as innocently as possible chirped “Oh, by the way, I couldn’t help noticing the unique inlay in your table-top, but for the life of me, I just can’t figure out what it is.”

She grinned and said “Since you’re from up North, I wouldn’t expect you to; it’s a map of the Confederacy.” Walking over to the table, she began to trace it with a perfectly manicured fingertip “See, here’s Texas, and over there is Florida…”

I smiled sheepishly, thanked her, and continued on to Savannah.

1 comment:

  1. Apparently I've been in the South far too long- I knew exactly what that was. :) Nice article.

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