When they moved from Illinois to California in 1954, the year I was born, my parents could fit very little in the U-Haul trailer they pulled behind their Buick station wagon. One of the few items of furniture they brought with them was an oak dresser. It was a solid piece of furniture with birdseye maple drawers (except for the bottom drawer, which was made of cedar and had a hinged cedar cover).
After my father knew that he was dying, he and Mom embarked upon several home improvement projects. I think that Dad, since he couldn’t work, wanted to feel like he was being productive. Unfortunately, one of their projects was to “refinish” and “antique” the beautiful natural wood of the dresser, which meant painting it a hideous color of green, streaking that with a garish gold color, and then applying a coat of shellac which gave everything a sickly yellowish hue. They also spray painted the brass knobs the color gold you see as trim on merry-go-round horses. Yeah, it was awful. But they put the thing back in my brothers’ bedroom and we mostly just forgot about it.
Dad passed away, the boys grew up and moved out, and the dresser was shifted from one home to another. Finally, when I married in 1972, Mom gave me the dresser but made me promise that I would someday refinish it. I had every intention of doing so, but life happens. Decades later, the dresser ended up in my two boys’ room—still the same awful color it had been since 1963, but also still functioning as a very solid piece of furniture.
Three years ago, when I moved to Mt. Baldy, we put the dresser in the basement on the day I moved in. Space is limited in the cabin, the master bedroom has a beautiful, rosewood-topped built in dresser (thank you, Richard Stutsman) and frankly I was reluctant to move the old green monstrosity into my beautiful new living space.
A week after I moved in it snowed, and a week after that we had pouring rain for hours on end. It wasn’t until several days later that I went looking for something in the basement and discovered that water had leaked (a repair that was supposed to have been completed during escrow) through the ceiling down there and had been dripping for days—right on top of the old green dresser. The wood on the top was peeling up and the drawers were warped and wouldn’t open properly. I was devastated, angry, disappointed in myself for not taking better care of something that had grown in meaning for me with every year of my life. I moved the dresser away from the leaking spot, covered it up, and tried not to think of it.
Two years went by. Last winter, after I put the cabin on the market, I knew I would have to deal with paring down, getting ready to move. I went down to the basement with the intention of breaking the dresser into pieces and taking it to the dumpster. As I examined it, though, I realized it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. The top was ruined, but it was just a thin veneer that could be replaced. The drawers were also finished with veneer and it was that which was warped, not the oak itself. Slowly, painstakingly, I began restoring the dresser, using wood glue to repair in some places, finding wood to cover the top, sanding, painting—and replacing the knobs.
Yesterday my friend Michael came up to visit and I enlisted his help. Together, we brought the green dresser out of the basement and into the bedroom where it belongs. It’s beautiful, I’m proud of the work I did on it (sorry it took so long, Mom!), and it will always be with me, truly the possession of a lifetime.