Dad’s Roll-Top Desk

 June 13, 2014

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I’ve always loved wooden objects. I don’t know where this love comes from. I can’t necessarily attribute it to the fact that Jesus was a carpenter for this love preceded my knowledge of Jesus, though later I did make the association between wood, carpentry and Jesus. Perhaps it was the hardwood floors in the hallway that I remember sliding on after mom had waxed them, or the hidden wooden “slide” in the closet over the basement stairs that had been cut out of the floor of the closet to allow heads to pass down the stairs without being banged. It was the perfect spot to hide and slide down amidst the coats hanging there. Or perhaps it was because of the trees I climbed in our yard, sitting amidst the leaves on the board my brothers had placed in the arms of the branches as a lookout post. Hidden amidst the leaves I would survey the world below.

I don’t know why I love wood so much, I just do. And so when my dad purchased a new fangled modern metal desk for his basement office and proceeded to put his beat up old roll-top desk to the curb to be hauled away, I intervened.

“Can I have your desk?” my nine year old voice chimed in. and to convince my dad how serious I was about this, I offered to buy it. “I’ll give you six dollars.”

This was a big deal. We did not receive an allowance as kids so what little money we had we acquired through careful accumulation of birthday and Christmas gifts, random nickels or quarters we might be given, or pennies found on the ground. I don’t know when mom set up bank accounts for us kids, I just know that I saved my money and whenever I collected two dollars or more I would walk downtown to the Bank of Alma and make a deposit. I watched the slow accumulation of money in my bank book. I was hooked on saving. Most recently I had started following in my brothers’ footsteps, collecting pop bottles for the two cent deposit. The fact that I was willing to dig into my stash to buy the desk let my dad know this was not a random whim on my part.

He looked at me, prepared to say no, then gave in.

I paid for the desk and my dad was left to haul it back into the house. I suspect dad had been anxious to get rid of the monstrosity. In its prime it had most likely been a magnificent piece, or at least that’s how I still imagine it. Now it was scarred, had a gaping hole where once might have been another roll top on the bottom left side. My mother surmised that it had been taken out in order to put a typewriter in its place. Several of the rows off the top roller were missing, still I loved that desk, all of the little cubby holes for hiding small objects and even a secret hiding place. It was magical. I spent hours sanding the desk and then varnishing it in the hope of restoring it to a natural glow, all to no avail. Still I loved that desk.

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The desk was bulky and heavy, even though it came apart into two pieces. I’m sure my dad wasn’t keen on lugging it upstairs and into my bedroom, but he did it, recruiting the aid of my brother, because, after all, he was my dad. Dad’s do such things. I also suspect he was none too happy about moving it from one room to another when I left for college, just as he was none too happy about loading and unloading all of the boxes of books that went with me when I moved multiple times over those years. Still that was what dad’s did.

When I mentioned my desk to my friend, Sally Humphrey, she determined that we had to go get it and move it into its rightful place. And so she made arrangements to borrow a truck from a friend of hers, not telling him that the desk we were moving was a hundred miles away in Alma rather than across town.

My dad helped us load the desk, giving us a look like, “what was my crazy daughter thinking now? Those two ‘girls’ would never be able to unload that desk,” as we pulled out of the driveway and on our merry way. We managed to get the desk into my house and up a flight of stairs to my bedroom. Then it became my husband’s responsibility to help me move with every move we made.

I wrote my first novel sitting at this desk, St. Mary’s School, the summer between my junior and senior year of college. I wish I could say I wrote other great works at this desk, but that would not be true. I have found sitting at the kitchen table, wherever I was living, sitting on the couch or porch swing or at McDonalds with pen and paper were more conducive to writing than sitting at that desk. Still I keep it with me, one of the few visible reminders of my childhood and my dad. I have stored within its depths mementos from grade school, high school and beyond. I have dreamed at times of restoring it to its natural magnificence, however that would cost much more money than it is worth. I’ve thought of selling it to someone who would know its value and appreciate it. Instead I have kept it.

In my most recent move, into the home I now share with my new husband, I considered again getting rid of it as we were trying to downsize our lives and possessions. But the thought of leaving this old friend behind was too much to bear. So this time another man in my life grumbles as he helps me move this bulky, heavy colossus. I don’t think he is any happier to do this than my dad was, but he does it anyway because that’s what husbands do.


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