The Bassinet by Fem Mei Sim
‘The Bassinet’ by Fern Mei Sim
I round the corner of the Van Dijk & Ko antique warehouse and come across a bassinet sitting on the concrete floor. Its curving wicker exterior immediately transports me to back to Malaysia: I am six years old again and visiting my grandma. Back then, I would struggle into her large bamboo chairs and play with the cane reeds that bound them together. Inevitably, I would sweat in the oppressive South East Asian humidity, and my thighs would painfully stick to the seat, the wicker’s creaking canes carving scarlet indents into my skin.
My research task at hand brings my mind back to present-day Amsterdam and I notice that this bassinet is crafted differently to my grandma’s chairs: its surface is far more forgiving and bound in soft braided raffia.
A quick scroll through the white suburban mums of Pinterest traces the bassinet’s vintage wicker style to early 20th Century Holland. The cradle’s boat-shaped exterior is constructed with cane reeds that bend like loosely coalescing tree branches or slackened sailor’s knots. Inside, its soft cushion is covered in red and white striped cotton, and below, its stand is sturdy on four legs.
I wonder why such an ornate bassinet sits childless in a dusty antique warehouse, rather than cosied in a nursery.
A few splinters and loose strands of raffia suggest that it once carried a child… So where are they now? Have they grown up? Do they have children of their own? Why wasn’t the bassinet passed on to younger family members or friends?
I look around the room and notice a rusty red basketball hoop sitting nearby. Perhaps both items were owned, and since discarded, by the same child? Or maybe, they were just props on a film/theatre set, just like the lights, reflectors, and reels of film sitting behind them. I ask a shop attendant as he passes by and he reveals that no, the bassinet was from a homewares sale.
When I look back at the cradle, its softened wicker handles call me to pick it up and rock it. When I give into the urge, I find the raffia worn down and loosened from the cane scaffold.
I push and pull, and the cradle rocks gently, its pendulous momentum assisted by its weighted base. The cradle’s easy, practiced dance makes it is clear that a red-eyed someone once spent many hours in this ritual, urging the bassinet’s inhabitant to sleep. From the cradle’s intact circumference, I gather that this someone must have been largely successful, or at least blessed with a relatively peaceful sleeper that did not kick in protest.
I wonder more about this guardian and their child. I find it interesting that the cradle’s cushion is striped red and white, rather than coloured a stereotypical blue or pink. Did the child’s parents actively avoid gender stereotypes? Or perhaps they did not know the sex of their child until birth?
I inspect the wooden base of the cradle and discover pastel pink skirting crumpled and hidden away under the cushion.
Were the child’s parents originally expecting a girl, but then surprised by a baby boy? Was there a mad rush to cover the delicate rose skirting with a more “masculine” cushion? Or perhaps the bassinet was a hand-me-down, passed on from older sister to younger brother, as in my own family? But the red and white cushion fits so perfectly, as if it were specially made for the bassinet. So why the “identity crisis”?
Curious, I further investigate the striped bedding and find another cushion sandwiched between it and the pink skirting. Alarmingly, its taupe cover is marred by reddish-brown stains. Is it blood? Did the child harm themselves while playing in the bassinet? Or is it paint? Were the parents touching up the nursery while the cradle sat out in the open?
I look to the cradle’s stand for more clues. Centimetres from the ground, its four feet are connected by sturdy canes, arranged both perpendicularly and diagonally.
Directly above their intersection, the wooden base of the cradle-bed is heavily scratched. Perhaps the family cat or dog used to sit here and use the bassinet as its scratching post? Or maybe, the pet was jealous of the family’s new obsession and desperately fought its fate of being replaced by the baby? After all, my auntie’s cat Toby acted out like this following my cousin’s birth.
Did the pet eventually get to the baby? Was their altercation the source of the cushion’s blood stains? Could this traumatic memory be the reason why the bassinet was sold, rather than passed on within the family?
Whatever happened, the bassinet remains in relatively ship-shape (both literally in its boat-like form, and figuratively in its condition). Like many other antiques here, however, it lacks a price tag or official story… it’s another “priceless” memory floating through the Van Dijk & Ko warehouse.