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Desks are funny things…
My memories are peppered with them, ranging from the small wooden one on the front row of my first grade class to an institutional gray metal one that served my purposes as a fledging insurance adjuster. There’s the desk from which I ran my first large-scale business and, of course, the one at which I completed the draft of my first novel. Most served their purpose well, desks being sturdy things.
Those of you who follow this blog know that until I turned six our young family lived on one side of a duplex in Columbus, Ohio. My grandmother and great-aunt shared the other half, where they spent most of their daylight hours in the kitchen.
As I write the oak drop-front desk that graced my paternal grandmother’s dining room sits before me – a heavy wooden box set on four long, graceful Queen Anne legs.
Movers hate it.
Every time I change locations, a bevy of antique repairmen have to put its pieces back together again, mimicking all the king’s horse and all the king’s men.
Two small front-door cabinets perch atop the main body of this desk, separated by a beveled mirror that spans the space between them. One of the earlier repairmen pointed out that the board behind this mirror is singed by heat. He speculated that this was caused by an oil lamp sitting on a table placed against the desk’s tall back as it divided a kitchen area from the main living space of a small home during the late nineteenth century.
Family history relates that my grandmother bought this desk for two dollars at an auction during the Depression. I have been offered many thousands of dollars to part with it by more than one of the aforementioned repairmen.
Open the right hand cabinet, and you will find a tiny, crumpled brown paper bag that contains a handful of musty smelling rubber bands, carefully hoarded for a rainy day by my maiden great-aunt, Doris. Most people would have thrown them out years ago, but I can’t bring myself to do so.
Always patient, always kind, Aunt Doris read me storybooks by the hour when I was still a child, as my head snuggled against her bone-thin arm. By the end of a day spent together, her voice would be nothing more than a croak, and yet, she would soldier on, not wanting to disappoint.
If you hold her rubber treasures at the right distance from your nose, for just a moment you can get a whiff of her, and so the tiny brown bag remains in its small cupboard.
Behind the drop front, hides a small drawer within which resides an ancient fountain pen, the ink within it long since dried. My grandfather, whose pen it was, died fourteen years before my birth, my memories of him formed from stray anecdotes and a photo in a silver frame. Like the tiny bag of rubber bands it, too, will remain tucked away within my home.
I learned to write on the wooden surface of this desk, the feel of the magic pencil hard within my hand as I practiced round, open letters and long, straight lines. When no one watched, I often reached inside the forbidden drawer and exchanged my pencil for my absent grandfather’s pen, even though it no longer worked. It’s smooth, cold surface somehow connecting me with him.
At this desk, I filled page after page of cheap ruled paper with round “Os” and straight “Ts.” Eventually, I moved on to short words that I strove to match one written by my grandmother in an upper corner. Finally, I copied whole pages from my favorite storybooks. Was this the first hint that I would someday be a writer – no longer copying the words of others, but instead writing down my own?
As my life moves forward, I continue to downsize more and more, but some things will remain around me always – a cuckoo clock my father cherished, locks of my babies’ hair, love letters from my husband, and Grandma’s desk.
What treasures rest within the desks residing in your home?
Oh, how I wish that I could know!
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