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Unfinished Furniture


It would command no more than $75 in a yard sale, its condition Good at best. Anyway, no one wants old wooden desk with no keyboard tray and drawers designed to hold manila folders. Except me.


It started life as unfinished furniture at a store that smelled of fresh, raw wood. It was my first investment in Integrated Graphics, the publishing business I started in 1988 and would run out of our antique cape in New Hampshire. For $288, the desk had three drawers on each side and a shallow one in the center. It would hold my client files, accounting records, and publishing supplies.


David (my husband) and I brought it home in the back of our Dodge Caravan. We unloaded it into the garage, where I painstakingly sanded it, stained it, and polyurethaned it. I repeated the process five times, until its color was rich and deep, its surface glossy. Not one fiber or speck of dust had been caught between coats.


We moved the desk inside. I filled it with non-photo blue pens, gum erasers, and Exacto knives, and placed my original-model Macintosh computer on top. I was ready for business.


Over this desk I interviewed my first clients, showed them sketches of possible brochures, hurried to finish jobs, wrote out invoices. To protect its soft, pine surface, I worked with a manila folder under my pen at all times. Once a week, religiously, I dusted and polished my desk, carefully twisting the rag around the brass handles on its drawers.


When I started Integrated Graphics, David and I were parents to five-year-old Ben; in 1990, our son Jesse was born. As our family grew, so did the business. I moved client discussions to a larger counter area and worked at a big new computer table, retreating to the desk only to get stamps or envelopes, file jobs and pay bills.


Sometimes David used the desk to write a check or letter. Ben spread out school projects. Jesse clobbered it with his Playskool hammer. When I leaned down to inspect the dents, I noticed impressions in the surface. A forger could have lifted the signature of David H. Ronco, who had written a check on 7-16-90, for $30.42. I could see Ben’s attempts to write 100 with the zeroes hooked together the way his teacher wrote them on his vocabulary tests. The pristine desktop I’d once prized was becoming a chance etching of our family life.


In 1995, we decided to give up the freezing New Hampshire weather for North Carolina. I sold Integrated Graphics, but kept the desk, which we packed along with the kids and everything else. On the trip south, something — maybe the leg of a chair — dug a small, circular impression into the desktop as it jiggled along in the back of the Ryder truck. Subsequent moves added more scratches and dents.


I still dust this desk, which has known six homes and is now rigged with a makeshift keyboard tray. In the gleam of the furniture polish, nearly 35 years of precious images appear on the desktop. The coil impression from a spiral notebook. $987.24, AUT-181A. The shape of Louisiana. A deeply carved J. The large word DULUX written in a proud child’s hand.


My recent mishaps with superglue and a utility knife have left their evidence. A stubborn sheath of print remains stuck to the desktop where I inadvertently laid a sales flyer on a wet spot.


Some time ago, my children moved into adulthood and David into eternity. But my desk is still with me, continuing to collect history in its ravaged, priceless surface.


As far as I’m concerned, it’s still unfinished furniture.

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