I looked up from my desk and my math homework. My father had called from our kitchen and asked me to help him carry something to the basement. I was annoyed, but it wasn’t like I was making any progress completing my homework. I had been staring at the same calculus problem for the past ten minutes and had made zero progress. Plus, when my father called, my brothers and I were usually expected to come right away.
When I walked to the kitchen, my father had already stepped outside and was waiting for me by the cellar basement door. He was rubbing his hand along the top of an old dresser, feeling the grain of the wood. The piece had seen better days. The dresser knobs had been removed and one of the drawers was missing. To top it off, someone had covered the original dark brown mahogany with an ugly blue paint. On top of the dresser, sat an old mantle clock that looked like it too had seen better days. The hands on the clock were locked in perpetuity on 3:45.
I knew my father well enough to know that he was in another world. He was envisioning what the two pieces once looked like and what they could look like once again with a little tender, loving care. He was noticing the wood and the dovetail molding on the drawers. He was almost gleeful seeing the dream in his head. Meanwhile, I was eyeing up the size of the dresser and wondering how the two of us were going to get the humongous piece of “junk” down the steps and into our basement. In my mind, the best use of the dresser would have been to throw it in the backyard, arrange some lawn chairs around it, set the dresser ablaze with lighter fluid and a match, and roast marshmallows in a huge bonfire.
Noticing the little things
My father must have noticed the look of bewilderment on my face, because he instantly started lecturing me on the piece’s finer points. Did I notice the molding? Did I notice the color of the wood that hadn’t been covered by the paint and how sturdy the piece was? He lectured me on how “they didn’t make furniture like they used to”, how you couldn’t get quality workmanship like the dresser in the store nowadays, and how the dresser would last for another hundred years with the right attention. He explained too that the previous owner had thrown the clock in as an extra for taking the dresser off his hands. “They obviously didn’t know that they had. Once I clean the dresser up, once I get the clock running again, they’re going to be priceless, prettier than a sunny day,” he said.
“Yeah, yeah,” I mentioned. “It’s going to take a ton of work though.”
“Just a little work,” he countered, holding his ground.
I thought about continuing to argue, but I stopped, I knew I was in a losing battle and didn’t want to spend the rest of the evening getting lectured on the finer points of furniture restoration. I reached for the clock and set it on the ground and then grabbed one end of the dresser and he grabbed another and we carefully carried it down the steps.
No, no, thank you
When we were finished placing the dresser in a corner, my father asked me if I would want it. I thanked him, but told him that I knew he would have have the pieces shining by the time he was done and that he should raise his fees and charge one of his clients for what the furniture was really worth.
I should have let my father down easier. I should have explained better that I wanted him to get the hard-earned money that he deserved for his work, but my no came too fast and I’m sure hurt his feelings. I tried to make it up to him, by saying that he should use the money and buy mom or him something nice, but I was too late. He looked sad as I left to get back to my homework.
Living in a different world
My father passed away years ago, but I couldn’t help but think about the conversation recently when my wife, son and I walked through aisle after aisle of furniture at Ikea. We were updating our son’s bedroom and wanted to look at new bedroom sets.
The furniture all had that new furniture shine (and smell.) Of course, I couldn’t help but look for myself too. I came across the chair I liked when my wife and I were first married, but I always put aside, because it never quite fit into our budget. It was an extravagance. I sat in the chair and let out a sigh. I closed my eyes and thought about where I might put the chair now. After my wife and son had moved onto the next section and I had been sitting for a long enough time, I tried to get up, but couldn’t.
Oh, it was more modern than the dresser that my father had brought home, but it lacked the dresser’s personality and fine quality. You could tell that the chair would be broken or missing a piece in a matter of months, not years. I had to push myself up from the chair and when I did, a prong underneath the chair fell loudly to the floor. With everyone now looking at me, I cursed my wife and son for walking ahead of me and put my flushed, beet-red head down while I picked up the piece that had fallen off and put it onto the chair for an Ikea worker to fix later, before walking fast to get away from the scene of the crime and catch up to my wife.
A believer now!
My taste in furniture still falls more in the modern category, but I understand more now about wood. I never really picked up my father’s love of refurbishing antiques or his ability to use his hands. I’ve refurbished a few pieces, but I don’t have the knowledge that my father had. Despite it all, I do have a better appreciation than when I was a kid.
When I was out driving a few weeks later and passed another furniture store, I stopped and found a dresser not unlike what my father had restored. Instead of rushing by the piece, I marveled at it. I can’t get my father’s old piece back, but I can respect the craftmanship and hard work of other pieces like it.
Yes, I’ve become an antique in a fast-paced Ikea world!