This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother Frances’ desk. She was fond of it and I have many memories of seeing my grandmother sitting on the stool in front of her desk and writing Christmas and birthday cards to her family.
My grandmother had the heart of a personal historian. I remember her sitting at her desk, opening up her journal and making little notes in it – notes about the births, weddings, deaths and divorces in our family. She also wrote notes about a particularly good game of bridge she had played or having the best score in a golf match. She wrote get-well cards to her friends and planned trips to see her out-of-town family or friends, all while sitting at her desk. She paid her bills and wrote donation checks to her local SPCA and to many other charities in the San Francisco Bay area.
When I was just five years old, I remember sitting at my grandmother’s desk. This desk was always paired with a round heavy stool. I have happy memories of lying on top of the stool, spreading my arms out wide and spinning myself around and around until I was sick.
One interesting thing about this desk is the many hiding places that it contains. I still gain pleasure from the idea that things can be hidden in the desk in plain sight but invisible to someone unfamiliar with the desk’s design. The hidden compartments are handy places to hide cash, love letters or perhaps even a secret diary – don’t tell anyone, though!
This desk also comes complete with a delicate, tiny brass key, which still works.
As I recall being told, my grandfather bought this desk for my grandmother sometime between 1930 and 1940. My grandmother used it every day until just a few weeks before her death. She died on February 3, 2008 at the age of 105. After my grandmother’s death, my aunt sent the desk to me by freight truck all the way from San Francisco to Virginia.
When I received the desk, my first thought was to give it a good polishing. I spent an afternoon cleaning and buffing the old desk. Surprisingly, during the process, I found some things that had slid under the drawers and behind several of the compartments – a piece of carbon paper, instructions on how to do tubular crocheting, my grandmother’s 1955 Certificate of Members in the American National Red Cross, a recipe for baked fish and a few old canceled checks. Most pieces even show my grandmother’s beautiful and flowery penmanship.
Sometimes I think about having the desk refinished, but then I tell myself that all of the patina and provenance that goes along with the desk would surely disappear in the process.
I don’t think I will ever have my grandmother’s desk refinished. Today, as I look at the writing surface of the desk, I can still see faint traces of my grandmother’s handwriting in the wood’s surface. Her story and the love she had for her family is engrained in the surface of the desk she used for over sixty years.
I am so very grateful to now be in possession of my grandmother’s old desk along with all of its precious memories. I hope that one of my daughters will want to keep this desk after I am gone.
Do you own a piece of furniture that is considered a family treasure and that holds memories for you? I’d like to suggest that you write those memories down. Future generations will enjoy knowing the history of that very special family heirloom.