The Curtain to Nowhere

Feb 24, 2012 | 1 comment

     Every once in awhile an observant guest asks us what’s behind the old silk curtain in our library.  All my life it has hung down from the eleven-foot ceiling to the top of the mantle-high bookcase in that room.  It was made from a bolt of fabric – Japanese silk – given to my grandmother in 1897 on the occasion of her marriage.
     Her father, Dan Richardson, was the Assistant Postmaster in San Francisco and, in addition – to help make ends meet – he served as the American Secretary to the Japanese Legation.  As a part of his duties in that capacity he sometimes housed Japanese dignitaries in his East Oakland home.   They were usually in transit between Japan and Washington D.C. and, depending upon their travel arrangements, they stayed with the Richardsons for days or even weeks.   Despite the differences of language and customs, friendships were made.
     My grandmother’s wedding dress was made from gifts of Japanese silk, as were other items in her trousseau.  I don’t really know the intent of the fabric that hangs in our library but I know it has been there since 1915.  There had been a chimney fire in that room (it was the first kitchen in the house), so my grandmother took that opportunity to fulfill her dream of having a library.
     But what to do with the door in the room’s southeast corner?  It led to the downstairs bedroom, but it was one of three doors that did so, and my grandmother thought it superfluous.  Besides, it took up valuable bookshelf space.  So, the door was closed and neatly plastered and papered over. Bookcase and mantle were built over it, and the curtain was hung.
     When Nyel and I redid the next-door room some years ago, we removed some shelving that had been installed on the wall directly behind the curtain and… voila!  There was the door, totally intact, doorknob and all.  We took a page from my grandmother’s book, left it there, and built in our own bookcases in front of it.  I like thinking that someday, a few generations down the line, someone else will discover that erstwhile door!   


1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    The beautiful curtain adds drama to the space and I always believed simply covered a window because I didn’t calculate what would be on the other side of the wall. A lovely story and a wonderful way to preserve a piece of your family history, Sydney. I may be seen taking a closer look on my next visit!


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