Jeff Allanach: A desk can be more than something to write on -- Gazette.Net


I’m not a sentimental guy.

That empty bottle collecting dust on the wine rack in the dining room? I don’t need it to remember our 10th wedding anniversary weekend getaway to Mount Vernon.

And I don’t need a pile of baby shoes to remember how small Celeste and Gavin’s feet once were.

I place more value on memories than objects, and sometimes the latter fails to solidify the former, at least in my sleep-deprived mind. But other times an object can bring back memories long forgotten, rekindle feelings buried deep, and paint a scene I hadn’t pictured in years.

Celeste’s new desk chair is a great example.

Karen bought it for her while the two of them were antiquing not long ago, but Celeste didn’t like the color. It was lacquered wood, and she wanted me to help her paint it blue.

“It can be a daddy-daughter activity,” she told me.

I liked that idea. We bought sandpaper and paint, and set out to restore an old chair with a fresh memory. But as is often the case, Celeste’s younger brother Gavin wanted to help.

She protested because, well, that’s the natural state of young siblings. If they don’t bicker periodically, we parents start to worry that something is seriously wrong.

Gavin’s mood cooled several degrees once Celeste told him he couldn’t help. I felt torn. I didn’t want to disappoint Celeste by including her brother in her special activity with Daddy, but I also didn’t want to exclude Gavin out of fear he would think I was favoring his sister.

Karen thought of the answer: my old desk.

I can’t remember the last time I thought of it. My grandfather made it for me 30 years ago, but I have long since outgrown it. It’s been sitting in the basement waiting for the right moment to hand down to Gavin, and it finally arrived.

He perked up immediately when we told him he could have the desk that day.

“My grandfather made it for me?” Gavin asked.

“No, my grandfather made it for me,” I said. “He’s your great-grandfather.”

“My great-grandfather? Did I meet him?” Gavin asked. “What’s his name?”

“His name is Clifford, and no, you never met him. He died long ago.”

“Clifford,” Gavin said quietly. “I miss him.”

A chill ran up my spine causing an unexpected tear to dance on the edge of my eyelids. How could Gavin miss someone he never met?

But before I could answer that question, another thought erupted in my mind. Perhaps that chilly tear had nothing to do with Gavin’s great-grandfather and everything to do with my father, for in that moment I realized I was doing with my son something my father never did with me: hand down a childhood item.

I realize it’s just a desk, but it represents much more than a surface upon which Gavin can color or do homework. It’s a piece of my childhood that I can share with my son, an object built by the man who tried to plug the gaps in my youth created by my father’s absence.

I think about those gaps often, but more so as Gavin nears the age I was when my father left. Some days I feel a draft sneak in through the gaps as though a hurricane is raging just outside the door. Other days I feel nothing, as though I am emotionally numb or could not smell an offending odor because I had lived with it so long.

I felt it all and smelled everything the day I handed down to my son an object from my grandfather instead of my father.

I suppose I am sentimental after all. That empty wine bottle isn’t going anywhere.

The writer is the Frederick County editor of The Gazette. He lives in Urbana and writes every other week about his adventures in fatherhood. To see photos of the desk and chair in this column, you can check out his Facebook page. He’ll post the photos Friday morning.