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July 2011
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THE DESK

I remember the day the desk came down the lane, brought home in a farm truck by my father and a brother.   It had been purchased from the estate auction of an elderly gentleman – for five dollars – certainly, a small sum for even 60 years ago.  The desk’s massive size would have attracted few buyers, but our thirteen room house was easily accommodating.

Actually, it was a double desk that had once been shared in a law office by the old gent and his partner.  Each half had its own bank of drawers.  Running from end to end at the top, dividing and connecting the two desks, was a level area for holding stacks of papers.  From either side of the level part, the rest of the desk top sloped downward towards the banks of drawers and the attorneys.

It was an impressive and beautiful desk, constructed from mahagony wood and unlike any desk  I’ve ever seen – before or since. It had to be dissembled, to get it inside the house, and was reassembled in a room that we had always called the every day living room. In one corner of this room was  Dad’s roll top-desk with the  many slats on the roll top that made the chore of dusting it a real doozy. In another corner was an ancient and narrow day bed, which had belonged to a long  dead ancestor from another era. Between it and the roll top, the old attorney desk was reassembled.

Then, we children swarmed around to explore its fourteen drawers. Several of the drawers had small wooden partitions – not chintzy wooden, partitions – but  solid and well constructed like other wooden furniture of its day.

There was something particularly fascinating about the desk. One of the top drawers was locked. Someone exclaimed, “Dad! This drawer is locked! Can you open it?” “Yes, yes,” we chorused, “oh, Dad, do open it!” But, Dad ‘s reply was: “Not today”.  For him, the auction had already taken the morning and part of the afternoon; chores and other farm matters more loudly beckoned.

We eagerly reminded him the next morning, but he was too busy that day……too busy the next……and so on….and after awhile we turned our minds entirely to other things and the locked drawer was forgotten.

 

Years went by as one by one all of us kids left home. Then, one summer day, we were all back for a weekend.   After dinner, we lingered at the table amidst cheerful banter.  Someone mentioned the desk. “Dad, did you ever find out what was in that drawer?” “Nope!” Now, if you knew my Dad as we did, you’d understand why he had never opened the drawer. Most certainly, he was not your ordinary fellow. But on that day — he knew, and we knew — that we would wait no longer.  Unspoken mutiny was at hand.

The mood discerned, one brother  jumped up, scurried from the room and returned shortly, with a screwdriver and a small saw with a very thin blade. We rose together – Mom, Dad and kids – to follow him into the “Desk Room” by which the room had been called since the day that the desk had come down the lane.  At last, the long ago desired moment was at hand!

We crowded around the drawer, astutely attentive as this brother tinkered at the lock with the screwdriver. But, after some effort of no results, plan two was implemented; sawing right through the lock. Drawing closer, we approvingly watched the saw fly in and out, all the while relishing the moment that had finally come.  As we watched, our imaginations took flight and we began conjuring up what possible treasures might be waiting within.  Oh, the excitement!

 

“A locked drawer!” exclaimed one of us.  “It has to be something special. “Yes!  Perhaps of value!”   exclaimed another.  We began to guess:  “Securities?” “Stocks?”  “Letters?”  “Abe Lincoln’s signature?”  “Jewelry?”  “Gold?”  “Old stamps?” “A rare book?”  “Money?”  “YES!” blurted one of us.  “Maybe, confederate money!”   All agreed with much enthusiasm.   Certainly, confederate money was feasible; for during the Civil War many in our neck of the woods, even one of our own ancestors, had sympathsized with the south.

After a few more minutes of conjuring, the saw cut cleanly through the lock. Excitement mounted!  Spell bound, with hushed breath and eager eyes, we leaned closer, savoring the long awaited moment to see what lay within the drawer.  It   was opened.  At last – at long last –  we saw inside, and as we stood and beheld in quiet disbelief we could only marvel and wonder.   Who would — why would — anyone — lock an empty drawer?

Even as into this post my words now flow, I can’t but smile at that memory from half my life ago.   Long after that anticlimactic moment of quiet disbelief;  long after sensing life and time had capriciously played a joke on us,  I ask:  was not our anticipation worth something?  Was it not  a bit of spice added to life – in this case, the wonderment and the waiting – that makes life more than just palatable? More fun, more intriguing, more memorable?  More than just normal?  In my book, indeed, it was all of these.  In the bargain  I had more to remember and as well, a story to tell.

 


Alas! I found several dictionary words with word discriptions so altered from my youth as to require looking into older versions of Webster’s for descriptions  to better fit the use of several of today’s vocabulary words — as follows:

astutesharp; eagle-eyed; critically examing or discerning   (Noah Webster’s The American dictionary of the English Language – 1847 edition) Also: shrewdly discerning and sagacious; acute; wily  (Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary, 1960).  Both older versions supplied the familiar definitions of my youth; but not Webster’s New World Dictionary, 1994,  which offered a honed down, secular version — craft, cunning, having or showing a clever or shrewd mind; cunning; crafty; wily — nothing else).

feasible – possible; within reason (Webster’s, 1994)

conjuring (conjure) — calling to mind (one of  numerous meanings from Webster’s 1994, but the only one appropriate to my use); from Webster’s Collegiate, 1960 – to implore or beseech with earnestness or solemnity; to use one’s imagination, to make come or go, evoke); from Webster’s 1847 – to affect in some manner, by magic arts, as by invoking the Supreme Being, or by the use of certain words, characters, or ceremonies, to engage supernatural influence; as, to conjure up evil spirits, or to conjure down a tempest; to conjure the stars, enjoining (ordering or directing with urgency) or imploring solemnly.

savoring (savor) – enjoying with appreciation (Webster’s 1994);  delighting in (Webster’s, 1960);  – many other definitions given in both editions

capriciously (caprice, capricious); impulsively, impishly, preceeding from some whim or fancy, apt to change suddenly, etc.,  (Webster’s, 1960)

palatable 1) pleasant or acceptable to the taste; fit to be eaten or drunk  2) acceptable to the mind (Webster’s 1994)


Exactly when revisions of Webster’s Dictionary began a secular course, I do not know.  But, I do find dismay in seeing the subtle removing of references to divinity and in other altering of meanings, including aforementioned narrowing and limiting of definitions.  After all, we’re supposed to hand the younger generations  — if not more,  at the least — not less.  Why should quality in anything pertaining to mind be diminished?

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