This Old Desk

While doing some housekeeping on this blog I viewed what is my cover photo with a different set of eyes.   I don’t know how or why these eyes appeared, but they allowed my heart and a part of my brain to travel back in time while my body and the remaining portion of my brain remained solidly grounded in the present.

Yes, this is my actual desk, which I purchased from a Salvation Army store back in 2006 for, what was to me, the mammoth sum of one hundred and forty seven dollars.   It was a bank breaker at the time because I had just left my marriage, had no job, and no prospect of obtaining one.   I had little money to squander on anything but the essentials, nor did I have a need for a piece of furniture that served me no purpose—or so I thought.

I grew up in an old brownstone in Brooklyn and the décor inside the house mirrored the age of the building.   All the furniture was heavy, dark, ornate, and carried with it a message indicating that respect was a requisite to owning and using it.   I believe that there is a life energy in all things either because of its current existence or through the many hands that touched it along the way.   As children, we live in a world where, to us, size is amplified largely because most things in relation to our size are indeed proportionately monumental.   In addition to that, life perception I had a sense of very real vibrations coming from certain pieces of those old pieces of furniture, making them seem alive to me.   I fell in love with many of them, but some possessed more being than others did, and with those, I formed a bond.

Of particular interest to me was a towering, walnut desk that stood upstairs in a dimly lit alcove.   It had three drawers on the bottom and two glass doors on the top that were separated by a large and slightly inward slanting piece of wood that, when drawn toward you, would drop down, ninety degrees, to form a writing desk.   Behind the glass doors stood several bisque and porcelain figurines, an ebony and ivory box my father acquired in Africa, and various other objects that time has erased from my memory.   Those prizes were secured by a lock that was driven by a skeleton key, which remained, at all times, inside the lock on the right side door.  I held deep inside me a mysterious reverence for that writing desk.

Contained within the writing chamber were many secret compartments and drawers, which stored and guarded things that I held sacred.   I would close my eyes and open its door to which I would be greeted by the smell of decades old tales that poured forth from within.   This was the place where the hallowed tools of writing lived—tools that no longer exist and that generations have never heard of, but these are the instruments of my childhood and they lived in this holy cupboard.

Long before the original Bic Ballpoint Pen was in favor, we used fountain pens.   We learned how to write with them, how to fill them, and how to blot the excess ink that often came out of them.   And so, in this desk was a collection of these pens, all of which were lever and bulb fillers, as cartridges were for the lazy and those with money to spend on having someone else fill their pens for them.   Tucked inside was also a supply of Waterman’s ink that were manufactured in various colors and sold in octagonal, glass bottles.    The order in which they were used was blue, then blue-black as we got older, followed by black which was reserved for adults.   I remember there being, perhaps a result of a mistaken purchase, a bottle of South Sea Blue ink way in the back.   I recall staring at the bottle and the beautiful color of its contents, but not being able to write with it, as it was not a color that was approved and it was impractical to remove whatever remaining ink was in the pen in order fill  it with the ocean-blue colored liquid.

Covering the bottom of the cavern’s interior was an open desk blotter that had a blotting paper surface in the center whose corners tucked into decorative envelopes.   This provided a smooth writing surface and would be slid out and used on the desktop to protect the wood from ink and marks.   There were individual ink blotters tucked into the vertical partitions for use for excessively wet writings.

I can still recall the mesmerizing scents of the rubber erasers, lead pencils, and Lepage’s mucilage that were housed in different compartments of the desk.     I looked in fear upon the heavy, stainless steel stapler with its large palm button that had more than once bitten me.    It was sandwiched between the magnifying glass and a pair of metal scissors whose black paint on the finger holes was well worn.   In the corner was a round, yellow, jump-a-peg puzzle that I had lost a peg to and, for some reason, colored the inside cover with crayons.

That secretary’s desk of my childhood was more than magickal to me; it sustained, in me, a lifetime interest in the literary and set the stage for what would become my role in it.   And so, when, as a newly, single woman, I moved into my own place I needed furniture.   My new castle was a one-bedroom duplex apartment in an old, turn-of-the nineteenth century house.   There were only four very small rooms and a bathroom, but it had a charm that attracted me to it.   I accepted donations from friends and frequented thrift shops in order to get what was necessary to set up my household.   It was on one of these excursions that I spotted an old secretary’s desk in a corner of the back room and I immediately knew that I must, and would, purchase it.   It was not as large or shiny as the one I remembered having a love affair with as a little girl, but she was grand and she needed to come home with me.

When we arrived back at the house, I knew I would have to make room for her despite the approximate hundred and fifty square feet of living area combined with the lack wall space.   After several months, and just as many moves, my desk found its permanent place in the living room, at least for the length of our time living in that house.   And although our journey together had begun on that day we met in the Salvation Army, it was not until she found her niche place that we began our true exchange together.

Initially, there were very few things that the desk was used for and I, at times, wondered why I made the purchase.   Soon, though, within the confines of the hidden interior desk, I would hide my paperwork for the divorce, the bills and credit card statements that needed to be paid, and messages I would write to myself.   I could do all those things and then close the door on them until the next time I needed to visit there.   It helped me find order in the chaos that my life was at that time by allowing me to walk away from the problems and the pain, at least for a little while.  It was a way to help me transition from my old to my new life without having to look at the reality of it if I chose not to.   It became a very important and necessary coping mechanism for me.

In time, I found that I enjoyed sitting there, and instead of using one of the two, yellow kitchen chairs, I purchased an old straight-back chair and I painted it black walnut.  This stately piece of furniture made me feel as if I was important, and that I needed to do something that would nurture that feeling.   I eventually enrolled in college and together we began our road to higher education.

Despite being manufactured in the previous century, and having been designed for a different manner of use, I found that with several adjustments I could adapt my needs to fit its bones.  I find myself re-reading that last sentence and finding the absurdity in it, because I could probably have purchased a smaller, more efficient desk that was designed specifically for today’s equipment and lack thereof, but it was not an option…not even a thought.

As shown in the picture, my computer keyboard sat on its now, constantly open desktop.   The monitor was parked on the floor until it was pressed into service.   The compartments were littered with bills, and glue, and white-out, and postage stamps, and a scotch tape dispenser.   I had a daily affirmation reminding me to embrace the journey taped to the slat of wood that separated the desk from the top third of the desk.   The glass doors protected some of the few prizes I owned at that time.

Throughout the years, this desk and I have moved a few more times and have shared several different homes.   She saw me write my first paper for college right through to writing my last paper for a Master’s Degree.   This desk has witnessed the creation of countless stories that were born out of the hundreds of thousands of words that passed across its flat workspace.

She is now semi-retired from active employment and lives in my muted, upstairs office.   Easy chairs and books on shelves that reach from floor to ceiling surround her.   Gone are the computer and the clutter of work left undone.   Her desktop remains mostly closed, except for those occasions when I enter inside and forget to close it.

I did not then know the significance this purchase would hold for me, or the memories that this desk would help me recall, and the new ones it would help me create.   She is as grand as the desk that I grew up with those many years ago and holds the same magickal effect for me.   When I close my eyes and open the desktop, I can smell the same scents and envision the same images that I experienced as a child—rubber erasers, ink, blotters.   Although they may be but an image on my psyche, they are real to me.   And, when I open my eyes, there are two relics, which can be espied in the photo, from those days that greet me.   The old magnifying glass and the round, yellow, jump-a-peg puzzle still sit on a shelf, remnants of a time that was, and preserved for at least my remaining years on this earth.

It was not a desk I was looking for in the second-hand store on that day ten years ago, but I rather a tie to the past and a bridge to the future.

secretary's desk


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