When I was 13, my father made me a desk. Dad was frugal: Throughout his career at General Electric, he saved nearly a third of every paycheck. This explains why most of the people who worked for him lived in nicer neighborhoods than we did. And why, instead of a white and gold, French-style desk with curved legs and fancy drawer pulls, I got a remnant door from the lumberyard plopped on two canary yellow metal cabinets.
Dad set me up with a fluorescent desk lamp; it hummed so loudly you could feel the vibrations. As a final touch, he sharpened some No. 2 pencils and laid them next to a sheaf of crisp, blue-ruled notebook paper. When he called me in to see his masterpiece, I couldn’t believe it. My bedroom had become 50 percent desk. “Isn’t it a little big for me, Daddy?” I asked in a sweet voice; of course, I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. He looked at me as if I had lost my senses. “You have big things to accomplish, Chris,” he said. “You need a big desk.”
If there was a moment in my life when my sense of self shifted, it was then and there. My parents had never indulged us. I sewed most of my clothes, and they never gave me a car. But what they did give me mattered. That desk and that awful humming fluorescent lamp (“if you can learn to work with that racket, you’ll be able to work through anything, honey”) became my cockpit for life, where I worked and read and studied and imagined. Every time I pulled my chair up to that desk, I felt important.
In my job, I look at rooms filled with amazing furniture, and there are stories behind each piece. Furniture can have meaning. I realize that it wasn’t a childhood desk that changed my life; it was my dad. But that desk showed that my dad took me seriously. I am not sure a child needs to know much more than that.
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Editor and Publisher