Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Piece of Furniture Finds its Forever Home

A piece of furniture that used to hold oil cans in my dad's garage now sets inside my house.

It's filled with books, items from my childhood, and other things I packed away in tubs when I needed to make room for a husband and step-daughter.

My crafty friend Valerie Shellhammer helped me refurbish this jewel.

at home in the house

When my brother-in-law Jeff saw it earlier this summer, he said, "It was a pie safe." He pointed to the screens on the top doors. "Flies wouldn't get in the pies that way," he added.

So that's what I'm calling it. The pie-safe bookcase.

Here's its story.

Dad said, "Are you sure you want that thing? It's really oily." 

I did. I had magazine pictures from years ago of what I wanted to turn it into. 

Dad didn't know that as a little girl, I had an entire plan of how to turn that yucky garage into a studio apartment. That bookcase was a key component of the design.

Yes, I have quite the imagination. Maybe when I'm 90 like he is, and if the garage is still standing, I'll renovate that garage into cottage I dreamed it could be.

Anyway, he let me have this cabinet, and that's when I learned there were doors for it. The top had that chicken wire, but the bottom doors were solid. Dad cleared out his stuff and packed it up for the trip from South Dakota to Kansas.

My brother-in-law Rick used my brother Elliott's pick-up to haul it down here. He brought a couple more items from the farm too.

The bookcase, a two-piece outfit, sat in my shed except for the times I took it out to scrape it.

I remember my friend and colleague Tim Hiebert bringing me, a relatively new home owner, a weed eater he'd picked up from a garage sale. That was somewhere in the mid to late '90s on Labor Day weekend.

Why do I remember that? Because he startled me when he walked into the backyard while I was scraping it. Tim said it looked like I had my work cut out for me.

And I remember the weekend because I thought I could get the thing completely scraped and done in a few days.

Work it was. Lots of elbow grease. 

What I found underneath was shocking. 

Red. Red paint.

Grandma Elizabeth, who no doubt had this in her house, must have painted it red. (Read "Namesake" by clicking here to know more about her.) Oil also seemed to seep from one corner. 

I decided I'd better measure the thing. It was too tall for my house­—if I was going to use both parts. I have low seven-foot ceilings, and this thing was nearly 10 feet tall.

My dream project went back in the shed to be infested with wasp hives and bird poop. Not much different than its life on the farm in the garage.

That was around 15 years ago.

After I got married in 2006, we moved the bookcase from the shed to our newly built garage, so the bookcase got cleaned up a bit for that. It stored lots of stuff on its open shelves with the doors setting on top collecting spiders. I still had dreams of it being inside the house some day though.

One summer my husband Chris bought me a hand sander, so I could use electric power to continue to clean up the thing. It worked. I went through a lot of sandpaper, but it worked.

A couple more years passed.

Brittany moved on to college and then out on her own. Her teenage room got redesigned back into a guest room. Here was my chance to get that thing in the house.

Valerie and I checked out vintage stores in Wichita for ideas. She snapped pictures. I bought paint. We had good intentions. But life happened.

And so it remained.

In the garage storing golf balls, flower vases, sander equipment, old yearbooks—not what I had envisioned for the thing years ago.

One day, Valerie said, "Let's get your bookcase done.

So on November 6, 2014, our first cold day of the fall season, we painted it with white chalk paint in the garage.

My husband had to cut off about two-and-half inches from the bottom, so it would fit in the house when finished.

Val finished up the doors at home.

Months pass.

Then finally in May, the entire thing was done. We put some sort of glaze on it. Smooth surface now.

Val found new hinges, but we saved the original clasps.

Oh, if those clasps could tell me the hands that have touched it throughout the years.

Finally, my dream piece had its new home inside the house.

I had fun arranging the items in it on my first full day of summer vacation. It took me all afternoon, but I wanted to make it look inviting to the point that if you came to my house, you'd love snooping around in the thing.

You'd figure out a lot about me through the book titles, the cups filled with bookmarks, the newspaper clippings and pictures arranged in boxes by year or topic. If my memory ever starts to fade, this will be my go-to place.

Sentimental me sure enjoys going in there, pulling out a box, reading through old notes.

After 26 years of teaching, I have a lot of notes from students—and I believe I have kept every one.

My Cousin Cynthia gave me Aunt Mary Ruth's notes from the state quilt she made me when she finished the embroidery squares that Mom had started. Precious to see her handwriting and planning.


Letters from my sister-in-law Doris when I first attended college. I've always loved her fancy cursive writing. And letters from Mom too. Kept in the envelopes with the dates stamped on them.

Notes from college pals. Homemade cards from my eight nieces and nephews who are now all adults. The vocabulary list of a made-up language my niece Jessica and I tried to invent one summer.

Notes from Steve Elliott and his mom about how thankful they were for the connections we made while I student taught at Halstead the fall of 1988. I would not have stayed with teaching if it wasn't for Steve, but that's a story for another post.

Material things. Yes. But things from events, students, and people that matter. This bookcase keeps them safe. Just like it did Grandma's pies.


Have you ever taken on a project that spanned two decades to complete? Have any items from an earlier time that you wished could be at your fingertips? Any family heirlooms in your home?


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