What a lovely way to spend a summer evening.
I have just spent the last two hours outside on my patio. Except for the dog and the noise of the air conditioner, I was alone. No drinks, no human companions, just my thoughts and some noxious chemicals that allowed them to wander, perhaps more freely than usual.
I am refinishing a well-used, well-worn barrister’s bookcase that I got from a family friend who was clearing out her home. Mrs. Q was my grandmother’s best friend, an honorary grandmother to us. I think they met in their early twenties, and my grandmother died in her 80s a few years ago, if that gives you any idea of the longevity of that friendship. Their friendship survived wars, widowhood, and many, many children. Mrs. Q stood by my grandmother while her vision and her memory went south, picking her up so they could have their hair done every week, rain or shine. The two women leaned on each other through joy and tragedy. It was a lovely friendship – the example after which I model those relationships in my life that really mean the most to me.
Mrs. Q recently sold the house she had lived in for more than 60 years, the house where she raised her children, and where she watched her husband on his long journey into dementia. I can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for her to leave that house. Many of her things went with her, but much of it could not go, and she offered the remaining things to her family and friends. I claimed the barrister’s bookcase. I have always wanted one.
This one has a few nicks and scratches and a broken pane of glass, but all the parts seem to be present and accounted for, and in working order. I am stripping it of the yellowed varnish and decades of lovingly applied furniture polish. The plan is to re-stain it to match my other bookcases. It should make a lovely addition to my home when it is restored, even if it hadn’t belonged to Mrs. Q.
But it did, so when I’m out there sanding and polishing, I am thinking of her, and of my grandmother. The relatively mindless tasks involved in the restoration give my brain time and space to wander away, a kind of meditation, almost. The thoughts that spin around unchecked are really quite interesting. I wonder if Grandma and Mrs. Q sat in the living room, next to the bookcase, and drank tea. I picture a teapot resting on top of the bookcase, silent witnesses to decades of friendship. Maybe they gossiped about the neighbours (actually, I doubt that), or hashed out the best way to deal with a recalcitrant toddler/teenager (their issues tend to be similar, I am finding). I imagine a rowdy child driving a doll stroller or Tonka truck through the glass, my grandmother’s mortification at her child’s behaviour, and her friend’s assurance that she is not angry (I made that up – I have no idea how the glass was broken – but I am sure that Mrs. Q would not have held it against whoever caused the damage).
It’s an inanimate object, and I should not be tempted to attribute much character to it. But when I look at it, I will see an object that I can take pride in having made beautiful (in a way different from how it was beautiful before) with my own two hands, an object that represents my love for books and writing. But most of all, it will remind me of Mrs. Q, my grandmother, their friendship, and those friendships that I treasure. You know who you are.
Edit: Here are before and after pictures of the finished product. I love it!!