The Desk

The Desk

While my father was visiting this summer he took it upon himself to refinish my antique desk. The desk belongs to me because no one else wanted it, like a ton of other stuff in my house.

The desk used to belong to my mother. She got it from her aunt, who lived alone and single her entire adult life. My mother had so many aunts and uncles who never had children of their own, I thought it was so strange. Did every family have a bevy of great aunts and uncles like mine did? I hardly had any cousins on my mother’s side because no one had kids. My mother had exactly two first cousins, even though there were four kids in her father’s family and two in her mother’s. No one had kids.

The desk lived in a tiny, one bedroom apartment filled with nicotine gunk and smoke smell on Connecticut Avenue, in Washington DC. That was where my single aunt had lived. Her bathroom window overlooked the National Zoo. I imagined that she had an exciting life filled with great meals and important people. The reality was that she ate a lot of crap in her tiny kitchen alone. She wasn’t friendly and she wasn’t warm and that didn’t attract a lot of people.

Her apartment was filled with her mother’s furniture, the pieces having been placed there when her own mother, my great grand mother, had passed away in 1969. When my aunt got sick that summer (was it 1984? I think it was), my mother and I did what must have been a similar thing and packed up her possessions. We put the big pieces on a U Haul and sent the driver west to our tiny townhouse in the Detroit area.

I was too young and too stupid to recognize the value of the pieces that had suddenly come into our possession. There was a beautiful dining table, and a matching breakfront. There was this antique desk. There were wall hangings and other things. And now today, of all of those lovely things that my mother took from her aunt, who took them from her mother, all I have left is this desk. It was gummy, and dirty, and the front of it was broken and falling off of its hinges.

My father, the guy who didn’t speak to my mother with anything but anger during the time frame in which we got the desk, spent hours last week restoring it. He took out the drawers and all of the parts. He found a mail receipt from 1956, signed by my great grandmother. He found a pen stuck inside that used a nib (the kind that had to be dipped in ink bottles) to write. He took off every brass handle and spent hours polishing them to their former luster. He cleaned off of the nicotine gunk and the fifty plus years of dirt and revarnished it.

I don’t always understand my father. We had a rough time of it when I was growing up. But now that I’m an adult, there are times that he surprises me with the gifts he will give me. The gifts that link me to my past are the greatest ones.

Ed note: I gave away the dining room table to my brother and the matching breakfront to a girlfriend, not realizing their value in my early twenties. I could kick myself. I’m sure they are long, long gone. One of these days I’ll work up the courage to ask.


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