Monday, January 17, 2011

A new home for an old desk

The roll-top desk drawers and crannies may be empty, but the floor remains covered with items to be sorted.

Simply Living
(First appeared in the Orlando Sentinel January 16, 2011)

I've spent the last three days emptying the roll-top desk in my former office. The desk, an oak behemoth that I bought about 30 years ago, has 15 drawers and nine cubbies. In 2009, when I moved my office from one room in the house to another, I left behind the desk and everything inside those cubbies and drawers. I always intended to go back and clean it out, but every time I did, the thought of emptying all those compartments was overwhelming.

Time after time, I put it off.

That changed last week when my friend said she was in the market for a used desk. Knowing my affinity for secondhand stores, Theresa asked me which thrift shops I thought she should visit. I mentioned a few, but in the back of my mind I was thinking of my old desk.

The next time I saw Theresa, I asked if she had found a desk yet. When she said no, I took the plunge. "Would you be interested in an old wooden roll-top desk that I no longer need?" Her enthusiastic reply made me realize that my days of procrastination were about to end. We arrived at a price and, more important, a day and time when she would pick the desk up. I knew that without a deadline, nothing would happen. I needed a push, a date on the calendar, before I could even begin to attack the project.

Once a date was set, my work began. I brewed a large mug of jasmine tea and settled on the old office floor. With a trash can and several cardboard boxes nearby, the sorting began. I rummaged through drawers, tossing this item here, that item there. I found boxes of colored pencils, old calligraphy pens and rubber stamps for decorating envelopes in the days when I actually wrote letters by hand. There was an entire drawer filled with sewing paraphernalia and another with blank paper, old pads and partly used notebooks.

Some things were easy to sort, though others brought me pause. When I discovered containers filled with my children's baby teeth, along with handwritten notes about when each tooth was lost, I put everything else on hold and took a trip back through time. As it turned out, time travel was to become the theme of my desk-emptying endeavor — especially when I began sorting through the two large file-cabinet drawers.

File folders overflowing with data from the days before computers were so stuffed into those drawers that I had difficulty opening them. Once I did, I found myself awash in a flood of memories. Piles of paper relating to old business projects triggered a sense of relief. Into the trash they went! I was glad to be rid of them.

That's not how I felt when I discovered the hand-drawn Mother's Day cards and colorful scribbled love notes written by my children when they were little. Those discoveries made me long for the days of sticky kisses, tight-squeezing hugs and crayoned words of devotion written in the colors of the rainbow.

Deep in the drawers were more reasons to remember. I unearthed reams of my old writings — stories, poems, songs and letters. Drawings, too. And letters from friends, some who are no longer alive. Time slowed as I read through those long-ago words and looked at sketches I hadn't seen in years.

Sometimes a piece of furniture is nothing other than a few bits of wood, some glue and nails. That wasn't the case for my old wooden desk. For me, that desk was a portal to the past. As difficult as it was to tackle, emptying the 15 drawers and nine cubbies transported me back through time. It refreshed my memories. My appreciation for the little things in life was renewed and invigorated.

After all the sorting, reviewing and renewing of memories, you might think I was sad to sell the desk. I wasn't. It made me feel good knowing that my friend will soon be filling the drawers and cubbies with memories of her own. I'm 59. Theresa is 27. That desk has enough nooks and crannies to contain several decades of her life's detritus.

I wish her well on her journey. Maybe someday it will be time for her to pass the desk on to someone else, and she'll face the curious task of sorting through papers and deciding what to do with old pens, crayon-scribbled notes and a collection of her children's baby teeth. When she does, I hope she gets as much satisfaction from her efforts as I have had from mine.

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