My Great-Grandfather's Desk

My Great-Grandfather’s Desk

“Grandma? Can we look to see what’s inside here?”

Jet wants look inside my great-grandfather’s desk. She wants peek under the roll top. She wants me to open the etched glass cabinet and show her the pretty things she can only glimpse from her vantage on the floor. For a second, I remain quiet, savoring this precious moment in time. I’ve lived this scene many times before but never in quite this particular way. An image of my grandparents’ living room begins to bloom in my memory. I can almost hear myself asking that same question. “Isn’t this pretty?” my grandma would say as she carefully turned the key and opened the doors.

My mind flashes to my mother’s voice as she recalled standing beside this desk while her Papa, my great-grandfather, retrieved the heavy ball they made together with the foil of pipe tobacco pouches and helped her to add another layer. How many times did I ask my grandma to stop what she was doing to let me look at her treasures?

In another layer of memory from a different time and place I can see my mother lifting the lid so her grandchildren can hold that special ball of foil or look through her grandfather’s magnifying glass. I’ve been the curious child, the nostalgic parent and now it is my turn to be the fourth generation grandparent to open the cabinet and roll back the lid for my granddaughter.

Miniature of My Mother and Grandmother

Miniature of My Mother and Grandmother

“Yes, of course we can!” I jump to my feet and thank her for remembering that only grandma may touch the desk. As I roll back the lid I watch Jet’s face. She seems focused and intent. I pull the magnifying glass from an inside drawer. “When your mother and Aunt Mary were little their grandma, my mother let them look through this too. Do you see how it makes things bigger?” Jet nods. We find some playing cards, a figurine I made in high school and a piece of pottery her mother created. I let her hold the shell that fills one of the cubbies.

Behind the glass doors we see the miniature picture of my mother and grandmother. She looks at the tiny porcelain doll that belonged to my great-grandmother. “How did she play with it inside that glass?”

“We put it in under the glass because it’s very old and very fragile, but when my great-grandma was young the doll was new and she could play with it. Now it’s best not to touch it!” I lift the glass dome, though so she can get a better look. Jet holds the cup and saucer from a tiny tea set that belonged to my mother, her great-grandma. I tell her about the line of women who have looked in this desk and how it is more than 100 years old. I make 100 hash marks on a piece of paper to show her that this is a very big number.

“How did it get to be so old Grandma?”



“Because our family took good care of it. My great-grandparents took good care of it, and my grandma and my mother and now I’m taking good care of it. Let me show you!” I draw stick figures to represent 6 generations. “After my mama died, the desk came to me. I hope it lasts a long, long time.”

Jet stands next to the desk and thinks about its history. Then she has an idea. “Grandma! I think someday this desk will come to live with me or Jem or Oboe!”

“I like to think so, Jet.”

“Don’t worry, we’ll take really good care of it too!”