My grandmother, whom we called Nanny, was a strong, independent, and very conservative woman (except when it came to buying jewelry). Born on February 23, 1924, she was a farmer's daughter--one of eight children--who grew up during the Great Depression. A polio survivor, she battled this crippling disease while expecting her 2nd child and caring for her eldest son, a two-and-a-half-year-old toddler, at the time. My grandfather had to add casters to my uncle's baby highchair so she could push it around the kitchen.
Although most married women of her era remained housewives, she worked as a "nanny", babysitting other families' children while raising her own. Later, when my grandfather underwent open heart surgery and had to take early retirement, she took a full-time job as an LPN in a nursing home.
Whenever I went to visit Nanny, I slept downstairs in the finished basement. The basement consisted of a great room, an adjoining laundry room, a half-bath and a cold cellar. The great room contained a hodge podge of old furniture (a sofa, chairs, a table, a bed, and even a rocking horse) that had been replaced by upgraded models upstairs. These castaways, however, were still serviceable and would never be thrown out. In fact, not much was thrown out in her depression-era household. Nanny saved the twist ties from bread, used old juice cans for composting, and made tea towels from flour sacks.
Downstairs, next to the guest bed, there was a 1950's era refrigerator (that still worked and was used for extra food storage). Next to the fridge there was a large freezer where my grandparent's kept surplus summer vegetables and beef from my uncle's farm.
Although she loved us, Nanny was far too practical and puritanical for a lot of demonstrative affection. As I grew older and started pursuing the many opportunities for young women of my generation (traveling abroad, entertaining on cruise ships, cocktail waitressing in a 4-star hotel), Nanny had difficulty relating to me. She was concerned that I was living a "fast" life andshe couldn't understand why I wasn't following her dream for me, which was to "marry a red-headed minister, sing in the choir, and have red-headed babies". I kid you not. My French Pascal was certainly a far cry from a red-headed minister!
Around this same time, my fascination with all things vintage was born. This was another thing that Nanny just didn't get. At a time when I had just started a collection of vintage brooches and jewelry, I was heartbroken to learn that Nanny had unwittingly sold all of her old costume jewelry in a yard sale at just 25 cents per piece! Someone got very lucky, scoring all "that old junk", as Nanny called it, for a pittance.
When Nanny died, I (like each of the granddaughters) inherited one of her rings. Nanny had a weakness for jewelry and amassed quite the collection of rings, earrings and necklaces that were the "real McCoy". I didn't really care about the ring. The things I cherish the most are two old chairs from the basement that were almost sent to the Goodwill; the rusty vintage tin that sat on her kitchen windowsill collecting all of those twist ties; and a small collection of her floursack-tea towels that we use daily in our own kitchen. I also inherited that vintage refrigerator that used to hum next to me whenever I slept in Nanny's cool basement.
For a while now, Pascal and I have been talking about rebranding our business and updating our bon bon packaging, but we couldn't seem to settle on an idea that felt just right. But inspiration comes from unlikely sources.
As a devotee of interior decorating, I loved those early episodes of Trading Spaces when interior designer Genevieve Gorder would design a room around an eggplant or a bowl of miso soup. I also smile knowingly at that Kohler commercial when the couple visits the architect to present a designer sink faucet explaining: "We want you to design a house around this."
Our own home decor has been inspired by a motley collection of flea market finds and trash-day treasures. But it wasn't until recently that I remembered Nanny's fridge, which has been sitting patiently in storage at my parents' house waiting for me to decide its next life. A bolt of creative inspiration surged through me, when I suddenly realized that Nanny's vintage fridge would be the perfect launching point for our bon bon business makeover.
Nanny wouldn't understand. "Why on earth would you want to do anything with that old thing?", she'd probably ask increduously. But, I still think she'd be secretly proud that we find value in her old castaways, especially since they're still perfectly serviceable.
Thomas Edison said: "Genius is 99 percent perspiration and 1 percent inspiration." Now that we've found the inspiration, it's time for the perspiration. There's no better example than my hardworking Nanny to remind us that hard work does indeed eventually pay off. After a lifetime of daily work and sacrifice, she was able to enjoy life's luxuries in her later years: new clothes, fancy jewelry, and fur coats.
We love the idea of an old-fashioned, hardworking fridge that will hold an abundance of life's little luxuries, South 'n France Bon Bons. We'll be sharing our path from inspiration to makeover completion in the weeks to come, and we hope you'll join us for the journey. For a sneak preview of our plans for Nanny's old fridge, visit Big Chill (photo credit), an appliance company that shares our appreciation for vintage values.