Grandpa's Desk

A vintage desk with a computer
My grandfather’s office was the best room in his house. At least, to me it was. His heavy wooden desk was the centerpiece and it was a beast.

The office was filled with books, papers, and good things that smelled like education and experience.

As a child, I would sit in his chair, hands folded on the desk or holding a pen, acting like I was writing something important just like him. Turning to my left, the chair swiveled perfectly to the typewriter. Clackety-clack. Sometimes, I would pretend to write an urgent memo.

But, his office had a special smell. It smelled like a life filled with love. It also exuded a smell of adventure with the African art on the walls or the Indonesian sculptures on the bookshelves; places where various missionary journeys had taken him and my grandmother.

The sweet smell of aging paper and typewriter ribbon permeated the room, too. And the way the pencil jar was overflowing with pens was a little bit of heaven that I wouldn’t know to miss until I wasn’t there to see it anymore.

Growing up, my sisters and I would spend the night at our grandparent’s house. Our parents would drop us off for the night, say their goodbyes, and tell us to expect them the late morning after pancakes and sausage and a good dose of quality time in the organic garden that sat on the top of a hill.

But it wasn’t just the garden, wonderful food, or the perfect company we loved most. Those were special but it was the mix of everything together simultaneously that made the magic happen. They were the epitome of slow living before it was a movement.

I think we were more excited to leave our parents than our parents were excited to drop us off. They were dropping us off at a place that was a combination of a bed and breakfast and The Secret Garden.

We didn't want to go home.

The rambling, ranch-style house sat on a hilly lot that my grandfather transformed into a garden of magazine quality. I supposed it helped that he was the president of his local organic gardening chapter because it meant the produce was beyond fresh. 

It also meant extreme care for cultivating his crops. He grew corn, beans, peppers, tomatoes, and squash. And he wrote about it in the monthly organic gardening bulletin.

He also had a basement shed filled with preserves and woodworking tools. 

We sisters would sneak down there and watch him: sometimes he’d sand a piece of furniture alongside our grandmother who was bringing up preserves of sweet pickles or jams.

Grandfather knew music like it was breathing to him: it was innate as it was life-giving. He knew how to play everything from guitar to piano to trumpet. A trumpet sat in his office and a guitar and violin in the living room with the piano (on which he gave us lessons). There were also marimbas in the family room, an organ next to it. There was no shortage of music.

Looking back on that time, I know I didn’t ask enough questions. But kids don't know to ask questions about what they don't know. We think time lasts longer because, for kids, it does. "We've only just begun to live," as the song goes. The days are long.

He taught me how to fish. But, I didn't know to ask him what lures to use for trout and bass and why.

I didn't ask him how he knew how to play so many instruments or why he refused to be a music leader in the heyday of the ‘40s music era. He could’ve traveled the world. He could’ve been a famous musician and bandleader.

I didn't ask him about his writing. It was as easy for him to pen a song as it was to pen a sermon. And who gave him the love for growing organic food? Was it his father, who had migrated across America to land in the rich soil of central California who taught him?

He lived a thousand lives for one of mine and now I had questions.

My paternal grandfather moved in with my parents and my sisters after my grandmother’s stroke when I was a teenager. It’s interesting to note the cyclical nature of life. Where my parents once took me to his house to help pick the fresh corn off the stalks and note the new coffee table he made, he was now a permanent visitor in our home.

Ultimately, glaucoma took his vision, a stroke took his wife, but nothing could take his spirit.

The writing he once did, the piano lessons he gave me, became memories; actions that were no longer allowable in his fragile frame. And yet, though his vision may have physically left him, his memory, thoughts, experiences, and past journeys were all talked about at the dinner table. We kept the past alive that way though, at the time, it just felt like normal table talk.

The stories he told over my mom’s cannelloni, the (bad) puns and jokes he threw back and forth with my dad – none of those things changed. He didn’t let the disease change him. I just wish I could go back and ask him more. 

I tried to appreciate what I could as a child, but what did I  know then?

A few years ago, in my own home, and out of the blue, I smelled his office. The decades-old files and ephemera of occupations long past sat in deep, mahogany drawers.  And that's what the aroma incited: memories.

He's been gone for over twenty years now. After moving that desk to my parent's home when he moved in, when it was my parents' turn to downsize a few years ago, I got the desk. 

This vintage behemoth is now mine to use, appreciate, and hopefully churn out a few things worth reading.

There's a desktop where a typewriter, stationary, and pens once sat and I'm not sure my writing is anywhere near as important as his was, but it sure feels good to be doing what he once did at his desk.

It's like he's still here.




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