November 15, 2011

A 1913 Fireplace Screen's Long Journey

Antique Fireplace Screen
This hand painted fireplace screen was given as a wedding present in 1913 to  Raymond John (Jack) Harwood & Florence (Flo) Beatice Willard. It is brass with a round mirror which is painted with flowers.

Jack and Flo were married in England and shortly afterwards, left for Canada where they began their married life. A son Godfrey William was born in Toronto one year later.

Godfrey was an only child and after his parents' death, the fireplace screen was one of the few items he kept.


Photo taken in Guelph ca 1917
Jack and Flo were friends of my maternal grandparents and the two families spent a lot of time together.

Godfrey is the little boy standing in this photo of my grandparents with their two daughters. My mother is the baby in my grandmother's arms.

Godfrey went on to marry a woman who became a lab assistant to Sir Frederick Banting, the inventor of insulin.

My mother went on to marry my father. The two lost touch with each other.

Many years later, long after my father's death, Godfrey and my mother happened to spot each other in a trailer park in Florida. It was a purely co-incidental meeting and they had not been in touch for over 50 years.

Godfrey's wife died shortly after this meeting. Can you guess what happened next? Godfrey became my step-father. Yes the little boy in this photo with my mother circa 1917 married my mother over 60 years later.

A touching aside to this story is that Godfrey lived with my grandparents as a teenager. My mother developed a bit of a crush on him but he left for Toronto to find a job and didn't keep in touch with her. He came back two years later, intent on asking my mother to marry him, only to find out she was engaged to my father. He left without ever telling her how he felt. 

Godfrey died in 1995. My 79 year old mother sold most of their furniture and belongings, then packed her car with what was left. With her car packed to the brim, she made the trip over the mountains and across the prairies from British Columbia back to Ontario.

Each of us four children of my mom received one item that had belonged to Godfrey. The fireplace screen went to my brother. He enjoyed it until for almost 14 years and then he passed it on to me.

And so the screen has had a long journey since it was first given as a wedding present 98 years ago. It sits in my living room in front of our fireplace and I enjoy looking at it every day. I plan to pass it on to one of my children, along with the story (or as we antique buffs call it, "the provenance") in hopes the story and the screen will always be passed on and treasured together.

3 comments:

Elizabeth said...

What a beautiful story to live on with that fireplace screen. Aren't you glad you've written down the story so it will never be forgotten.

Celia said...

A wonderful story, with all the warm anecdotes tacked on to this one item. A treasure indeed. The provenance is multi-layered, eh? - Celia

Janine Smith said...

What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing!