Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Desk

When my parents got married in June of 1948, and settled in St. Louis, my dad worked for the furniture store Styx, Bayer, and Fuller. Since he received a discount on purchases, in the first years of their marriage, they bought several good pieces: a desk, end tables, lamps, and a bedroom set.

All of those pieces, distributed among us when my parents died in 1995, and their home closed, still remain in my family,

I inherited the desk.

I call it “the desk” because that’s how we referred to it as children. Always a fixture in our living room, the desk traveled from St. Louis to Jacksonville to Atlanta, where it moved two more times in my parents’ lifetime as they lived in two house in Atlanta, and then finished out the last sixteen years of their lives in Roswell, Georgia.

I primarily remember my father sitting at that desk. His tall back slumped a little, Daddy pulled a Pugh chair, which actually wasn’t the right height for the desk,  to the front of and using the working surface, begin to do his weekly correspondence – which in a time before, well, you know, a time before now, had to be kept up with by and through handwriting.

He wrote and answered letters, paid bills, and each Saturday evening in order to be ready for the mad dash of getting a family of six ready for church, took a tithing envelope from a pigeon hole and wrote the check for the tithe.

When the fall front of the desk was down, which was most of the time, the desk was a messy place: mail, opened and not, keys, pens and pencils, various periodicals, writing paper, and other desk detritus lay about. It was never very neat – and the only time the fall front was closed was when we expected company.

Many a time in anticipation of visitors, I shoved the pile on the desk’s writing service to the back, sometimes crinkling and smashing things together, and closed the fall front to give the appearance of order. I never remember the desk being in a state of clutter free – it was always open – the curved pieces of metal which held the flip top exposed.

We were chastised many a time for leaning against that flip top and straining its strength.

Since the desk lay in between the hall door and the front door a major thoroughfare in our small house, anyone could bump into one of the sharp corners of the writing surface and be mortally wounded. 

On the very top of the desk was usually a light and a clock and various hard back books, supported by book ends. Above the desk hung a painting of Jesus knocking at a door, an image created by Warner Sallman. That painting, known as Christ at Heart’s Door, is a part of my siblings and my memories, but none of us knows what  happened to it – *sigh*. We don’t even remember if it made Mother and Daddy’s last move.

As a curious child, I loved to poke and prod in the confines of that desk. 

 I run because I can -- it's 1955. Desk is at right.

When the desk’s fall front was open and its working surface exposed, also clearly in view were the many “cool” storage spaces. I imagined what kinds of secrets could be hidden in the six pigeon holes (used mainly by Daddy for envelopes, old letters, and for some reason playing cards), four small drawers which held stamps, return address labels, anonymous old keys, and old small black and white photo of people long dead), and in the center of the work space – the absolutely most fabulous space -- a little door with a small door knob that opened and closed. What lay behind that little door now has left my memory.

I peered and peeked and examined everything in that desk – looking for some secrets I knew had to be hidden there. I never found any, but it didn’t keep me from snooping.

As my brother Hunter noted, “That desk was always there.”

 In St Louis in 1950, brother Hunter plays with a toy, given to him by his Aunt Eleanor -- desk is to the back right.

The other day I opened the desk that now belongs to me and sorted and tossed stuff that had gathered there. I have primarily used it for storage, and I haven’t sat at it at a long time and used its writing surface – even though, once, when I was teaching school, I had the wild notion that it would be super for grading papers. Actually, a super place for grading papers does not exist – but I digress.

As I cleaned out the desk’s many places, I came across the address return labels from my parents’ second home in Atlanta – one they left in 1979, as well as some old stamps and old keys. I guess I moved it as it was in 1995, and didn’t bother to clean out those small drawers.

Behind the small door, I had put a 20 ml bottle of Liquid Paper.


The other stuff I found --- well, readers, is for another blog.

 Brother Hunter in some nifty black socks stares at the parents on his graduation from kindergarten, 1955.

In 1958, my sister did some vamping for the camera.

 Sister Margaret and I pose before ... a fashion show... bwha... kidding -- Easter, 1967.

ETA: I couldn't find a single photo of my brother Kenneth in front of that desk. Sorry, bro.


  1. Thanks for letting us go down memory lane with you Harriet....I remember certain pieces in all my relatives houses, in my folks house, one of the things will be the bulletin board. It has been there for decades and still is. Sometimes relatives come over and the first thing they do is check and see if they are still on the "board" and my Aunt has that exact painting of Jesus above her little pump organ in the hall :-)

  2. This is a great story. It is interesting that this desk became such a fixture that it appeared in so many family pictures. You are so fortunate to have this beautiful piece that inspires such great memories. You tell them very well.

    Some day I will tell you the story of similar pieces in my family and my uncle who had seniority over the siblings, a pocket full of sticky notes, and a tremendous amount of gumption.


    P.S. I love how you captioned the picture "I run because I can - it's 1955." as if to say that the only year you could run was 1955.

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  4. My grandfather hands out business cards with that painting of Jesus knocking on them.