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Piece of the past returns

TAMPA — Kim Polidoro waited in the car line at school to pick up her son last week, contemplating which of the antique china sets from her great-grandmother she should use for Thanksgiving. Chatting with her dad, she spoke of how grateful she was to own such sentimental pieces and the significance of passing things on.

Polidoro lamented that she didn't possess a single item from her maternal grandmother. Nana, who died in 1991, did not own much. She cared for her parents and her in-laws as they aged. Many of her belongings were items they bequeathed to her.

"It's just really sad," Polidoro told her dad, Ken Anderson. "It would have been nice to have something that belonged to her."

That same day, 1,200 miles away in Frankenmuth, Mich., someone walked into a thrift store to donate a very special item.

The Clothes Line is a charitable storefront run by members of five local churches in Frankenmuth. Most items range from 50 cents to $1. A nice coat sells for about $2.50.

Kim Polidoro's Aunt Helen volunteers at the store one morning a week. Tuesdays aren't her usual day; she was replacing a sick volunteer.

That morning, the 70-year-old woman arrived to find the other volunteers abuzz over an item they debated tagging for $20.

"They didn't know what to sell it for," Aunt Helen said.

She went to the back of the shop to look for herself. There, she saw a fur stole made of luxurious brown mink.

Immediately, her mind flooded with a 55-year-old memory. She was a 15-year-old girl, watching her mother, so elegant and beautiful, getting ready to go to a fraternity party with her father, a stole just like that draped gracefully over her shoulders, white gloves to her elbows.

"Oh, my God," Helen said. "That belonged to my mother."

The other women laughed.

"Oh, we all had capes like that in those days," one said.

"I know," Helen said. "But I'm sure of it."

She ran her hands over the soft, silky fur and flipped it over to expose the lining. There, in fancy cursive, embroidered in exquisite brown thread, were the initials RHR.

• • •

Ruth Hagen Ryan — Helen's mother, Kim Polidoro's Nana — stood 5-feet, 8-inches tall, but she appeared taller by the way she carried herself. Poised and elegant, she was willowy, stunning.

She married Thomas Ryan, who owned Ryan's Grocery in Saginaw, Mich. He made good money, and, like the ladies of her day, she stayed home to raise her four children. The Ryans graced the society pages.

"She was one of those women who, when her husband came home, every hair was in place, she had on a dress and heels and a drink ready for him," said Polidoro, 36, who owns a pool business with her husband.

Whenever Nana needed anything from the grocery store, she just phoned and it was delivered.

She had the coat custom-made at least 60 years ago by Hudson's of Detroit, choosing to use her maiden name as her middle initial for her monogram — a bold move by a woman during that era.

She hung the stole on a hanger with a pink crochet cover. She kept a matching pillbox hat in a hatbox.

During the summers, she returned the coat to Hudson's department store for storage to protect the mink and the hand-sewn label.

Her husband died of a heart attack in 1965. She had to learn how to write checks and how to drive. But Nana still wore that coat to church, to dinners and even on her wedding day in 1978 to her second husband.

Sometime soon after, she traded in the stole at Ferris Bros., a fur store in Saginaw, for a bigger full-length coat, as women often did back then with furs.

• • •

Aunt Helen, unsure of whether to cry or be happy, called her sister, Colleen Anderson, to share the news of her discovery.

That's when she learned of her niece's wish to own a memento of her Nana's.

The aunt paid $20 for the coat and sent it to Polidoro in Tampa.

It arrived the day before Thanksgiving, just as the turkey dressing — Polidoro's great-grandmother's recipe — simmered on her stove. As the aroma wafted through the house, Polidoro and her mom opened the box and immediately recognized the stole.

"I can't believe I remember Nana wearing this!" Polidoro said. "It's just crazy."

Anderson rifled through the pockets, laughing: "Got anything in there for me, Mom?"

Polidoro tried the stole on, admiring its quality and condition. She wouldn't wear fur today but is glad to have it.

She ran her fingers up and down the tight seams and examined the monogram. Then she draped it over the back of a chair, right next to a cabinet containing her great-grandmother's century-old Haviland & Co. dinner plates.

Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)269-5312 or nguyen@sptimes.com.

Piece of the past returns 11/27/08 [Last modified: Thursday, December 4, 2008 12:19pm]
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