Keeping Warm by
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My house is full of stories—they may just look like books, clothing, pictures or furniture, but this is from a friend, that was my parents’, I got this on a trip.  An old T shirt from high school, an armchair salvaged from the curbside.  When I remember the stories, I am taken aback by how long ago everything has become.

The downside of a house of mementoes is that it is hard to throw anything out.  I think the oldest thing I  have is something that eluded getting thrown out by several generations, but I don’t really know its story.  This is all I know.

The downside of a house of mementoes is that it is hard to throw anything out.  I think the oldest thing I  have is something that eluded getting thrown out by several generations, but I don’t really know its story.  This is all I know:

My father’s mother died when he was around twelve years old, and his father remarried a few years later.  The stepmother was a piece of work—jealous and touchy.  She managed to keep my father and his much-younger sister apart, criticized my mother, and took great pride in her own family history that reportedly went far enough back in New England to qualify her for the D.A.R.  Her illusions of social standing suffered when my grandfather didn’t turn out to be the oil magnate she hoped for during the depression, and after he died she remarried into an old and prosperous Yankee family.  She was amazingly well-preserved and outlasted that husband as well.

Despite her prickly personality, my father maintained contact with this stepmother, and helped her out when she was well into her nineties and failing.  He made regular trips back to Riverhead, where she lived, and towards the end she was clearly unable to manage her affairs.  This was evident after she died–her house was a jumble of confusion, dresser drawers full of random clothes and the odd stock certificate thrown in. In the aftermath, my dad ended up with unexpected dividends from some of those stocks, as well as a house of stuff to clean out.

I believe that most of the household was sold off, but he and my sisters picked out a few items to keep.  One of them was an old wooden frame, with a perforated metal container and inner pan inside, designed to hold coals to warm a bed at night.  I think.  Was it something from the 1700’s, the 1800’s?  It seems old.  Something from the stepmother’s family?  Why did they keep it?  My father thought it was “kind of neat”, and when he died, I brought it home with me.

I placed it next to my fireplace, and it now gives me warm memories of my father; he was a good son and a good person.





Profile photo of Khati Hendry Khati Hendry

Characterizations: moving, well written


  1. Marian says:

    That’s quite a story, Khati, with a bit of mystery involved. I am glad that you have preserved this bed warmer with a positive memory of your father. He deserved whatever benefits he received from that estate.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      Yes he did deserve those unexpected benefits—it was the classic little old lady with an ancient blue chip stock certificate literally tucked in a drawer… I’m sure there were taxes to deal with, but he came out ahead in more than one way. I still don’t know the story of the bed warmer, but the rest is enough.

  2. Thanx Khati for this moving story, it tells us much about your dad.

    And all our stories are reminding us that old objects – irregardless of their monetary worth – can have great value.

  3. This was a story to warm one’s heart–and one’s feet or hands as well, if needed. As usual, you provide enough details to sustain a vivid narrative, and not so many as to leave us restless. just right. Like the object depicted.

  4. Suzy says:

    This bed warmer might be the most unusual artifact anyone has written about. Nice that your father kept it, along with the stock dividends that he had certainly earned helping his stepmother. How lovely that you have it next to your fireplace for warm memories.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    An amazing — and, yes, warm — story Khati. I will likely show my wife the bed warmer as she actually knows a lot about such antique stuff. (You wouldn’t believe the number of different fireplace “accessories” that existed in Colonial times.) If I learn something fascinating, I’ll pass it on. (Consider it your very own Antiques Roadshow.)

    And don’t get me started about the D.A.R. I got a “Good Citizenship” award from them in high school and wrote back a nasty letter about Marian Anderson.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      They don’t have a good history, do they? You were onto them from an early age. I don’t think my grandmother ever followed through on her potential membership—it was enough just to claim some status. Such as that might be. Glad you have your own Antiques Roadshow expert to call on. I’m sure this rusty old item is worth a bundle ha ha.

  6. John Shutkin says:

    Very helpful info from my very knowledgeable antiquarian wife (her knowledge, not her own age). She informs me that the stove was not used for bed warming — too large, and those bed warmers typically looked more like covered pans or chafing dishes. Rather, this was a stove brought to church to keep one’s feet warm during interminably long church services. Probably from the 18th Century. I guess shortening the services was not considered an option to those God-fearing Yankees.

  7. Laurie Levy says:

    Having a house full of stories is wonderful. The foot warmer, whether for bed or church, is truly amazing.

    • Khati Hendry says:

      It is actually pretty cute with the little heart-shaped perforations on the door and the sculpting of the dowels. I don’t think I will try to actually put embers in it, but it would probably still work.

  8. Betsy Pfau says:

    Such an interesting story for so many reasons, Khati. You father was, indeed, a devoted step-son, and I’m glad he inherited some things of worth, even if this is just an oddity. But at least it reminds you of him. You’ve told us a great deal about him in many moving ways, but this is a new bit of information.

    I’m rather glad that I’m late to the comments. When I looked at it, I also thought that it didn’t look like a bedwarmer (though no expert like John’s wife, I’ve seen enough old movies to know what they should look like). But I love the proper explanation. Foot warmer for a long church service. Very Yankee! And now sits next to your hearth, giving another form of warmth in the memory of your father.

  9. Susan Bennet says:

    Your first sentence is expressive and original, Khati — “My house is filled with stories.” I will remember it long after this reading.

    Who knows what forces make us who we are? Howl lucky your father’s stepmother was that your father brought a healing touch to her final days, and that she was able to receive him , humbly, to her open heart.

  10. Khati,
    My late wife owned an antique booth in an antique emporium in Cambridge as a hobby (a beloved hobby), and packed it with jewelry, silver, crystal, china, purses, handbags, indescribables, oddments, exotica, doodads, mirrors, hats, statuary, graphics, small furniture, one glamorous mink coat, vintage cook books, and a few legitimate antiques. She was especially attracted to old things solidly made of wood and iron that were designed for and had served a particular purpose in days of yore. She would have loved your contraption.

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