This little secretary desk used to belong to my beautiful Gran, who left us suddenly in March this year. It was a pretty difficult time for our family (especially Mum and her siblings) because instead of being able to pause and grieve her passing, they were thrown into suddenly packing up her house. Gran had sold her house only a couple of weeks before she passed away and to meet the settlement date my Mum, Aunt and Uncle had to work pretty hard.
I spent a week helping Mum at the house after Gran’s funeral and gained some insight into the enormity of the task. It wasn’t only Gran’s things that we were sorting, packing and sharing amongst the family. It was also the things that belonged to my Grandpa, and my Gran’s brother Uncle Gordon. There were moments when I just need to stop and take in the book I was holding, to read the inscription, or to close my eyes and remember what my Gran used to serve in a certain crystal bowl.
Somehow there was enough “stuff” to fill three houses, and yet their house never seemed cluttered. They had the sort of storage space I could only ever dream of, though.
Mum asked me, before this process began, if there was anything I wanted to have to remember my grandparents by. I remember saying that it would be nice to have a special book, maybe something from Grandpa’s desk, or a little crystal trinket from Gran’s dressing table. Nothing big, just something from their daily lives to carry with me as time marched on.
Lots of Gran & Grandpa’s belongings were already intended for certain people, and Gran used to talk a lot about who should have what. What was left was put on a big table for the extended family to choose from, and my cousins and I were told which pieces of furniture were going to be given away.
I think each of us was able to take away something special. My special thing wasn’t just the trinket I had originally asked for, it was Gran’s desk.
When we were kids my grandparents lived in a coastal town called Caloundra, a bit over an hour’s drive from Brisbane. They lived a block away from Shelly Beach and some of my favourite memories of my cousins were formed in that house. There was a backyard to play in, and Grandpa’s workshop down the back was always full of mysterious projects and smelled of sawdust. There was a high stool next to his workbench for curious grandkids who wanted to see how to french polish a chair leg.
My brother and I, and three of our spunky cousins
The “hub” of the house for Gran was her little desk. If we asked to borrow a pen or a piece of paper, if she needed to know somebody’s telephone number or their birthday, this is where she would find it. Mum told me recently that Gran was so excited when she got her desk, that she had wanted it for a long time.
I left it to my Mum to go through the contents of Gran’s desk when it was time to pack it up. Ordinary objects, like scissors, pens and old unused stationery was put in one pile, and my Mum said I could keep what I wanted. Not much of it was terribly noteworthy, but it was Gran’s. Her old scissors, never replaced because they still worked. A vintage pack of Redheads matches. A stripey, double-length pencil that Mum said would have been as old as me.
It seemed important to me that some of these little things stay with Gran’s desk. I also kept a mismatched collection of unused envelopes, because I know that Gran would have intended to use them one day. There were a couple of old, yellowed writing sets and notecards still in their boxes.
Tucked in between Gran’s old letter sets is a stamped, self-addressed envelope in my Gran’s handwriting. I really like knowing that it’s there.
It might sound like I’m keeping this desk as a shrine to my Gran, but I promise I’m not. Aside from being full of memories of her it is a beautiful and functional piece of furniture in its own right. Her little treasures sit alongside lots of my own things – my collection of blank journals, boxes of beading supplies, my paper trimmers and some of my washi tape. I’ve mixed my own letter writing sets in with hers, and I feel like that has breathed new life into some of her old things.
I feel very lucky to have Gran’s desk. And I’ll never replace those old scissors as long as they work.
I’ve been meaning to write about this desk for a long time, and had been putting it off. I want to say thank you to Melissa Goodsell for writing about her own little desk today, and giving me the inspiration to finally write about my Gran’s!