Before I was born, my mom (and dad) bought a pair of walnut dressers. Throughout my childhood, those dressers - or chests, as my mom called them - lived side by side in our living room and played a central role in my life.
In the left dresser:
- Mittens and hats - hand-knit by my grandma - were neatly arranged in the second drawer.
- Extra sheets and pillowcases were stowed in the bottom drawer which seemed to be forever stuck.
- The old black and white TV perched on top, and we gathered around the base of this dresser to watch our programs.
On the right:
- Our old-school black rotary phone sat on the back corner, and the .phone book and my mom's address book were kept in the top drawer.
- The second drawer was used for place mats and table cloths, and my daily task of setting the table started by pulling out that drawer.
- Between the TV on the left and the phone on the far right was the space my mom used to display pretty things. Vases of flowers from the yard, a little Christmas tree she made from tiny styrofoam balls and toothpicks, spray painted light lavender (sounds ugly but it was so cute), and our jack-o-lanterns took turns here.
In all their mid century glory, the dressers formed a strong foundation in my early years and figure heavily into many of my childhood memories. They mean a lot to me.
* * * * *
Time passed. The eighties arrived and my ever contemporary mother got on the country living bandwagon to which her sleek walnut furniture was not invited. I remember helping her brainstorm ways to re-imagine the dressers - we replaced the original sleek brushed-nickel handles for quaint white ceramic knobs, and pulled off the tapered wooden legs. Sitting squarely on the floor, the dressers looked almost like wooden trunks and definitely passed the test for 80s chic.
When my mom moved out of my childhood home and into her airy and light-filled condo, the dressers came along. Continuing in their role as anchor of the living room, they found favor along the main wall and kept up their usual job of giving the TV a home.
The mitten drawer now housed Sudoku puzzles, crossword books, and endless decks of cards for my mom's bridge parties, but otherwise, the life of the walnut dressers continued on as it had for decades.
* * * * *
After my mom died, the dressers came to live with me. In the summer of 2017, my husband and I packed them up in a U Haul van with a lot of other family treasures, drove them from Michigan through three time zones, half a dozen mountain passes, and many states to Washington.
We unloaded them into our garage and left them there under an old blanket to rest while I figured out what to do with them.
* * * * *
A couple weeks ago, a plan suddenly emerged. I refinished the dressers with a few fresh coats of polyurethane, though they were still in wonderful condition.
I scoured the internet to find drawer pulls and wooden legs that, while not identical to the originals, evoke their fifties' style and sensibility.
And now my mom's walnut dressers live side by side in my elder daughters' old room, leading the charge in transforming that space into something new and beautiful
^Here' s the dresser that will now be known as the one on the right; the other is tucked inside the closet to the left. So far, the top drawer holds my fourth-born's temporarily disassembled masts from her LEGO model of the sailing ship Zodiac, and the second drawer is the stash for my 2018 Christmas card inventory. I expect the contents will be changing around for years to come.
^ Hanging above is a poster that I brought home from Seoul, South Korea. My second born and I went to an exhibition about cities around the world; this contribution from Oslo highlights edible plants and animals that can be foraged within the city. I loved it from the moment I saw it, though I doubted that I would ever be able to get it home in suitable condition for framing.
Ha. Every inch of the way on the train to the airport, through various terminals and security checkpoints, and all the way across the Pacific, I protected that sucker with my life and I feel a sweet satisfaction every time I look at it.
^ Now say hello to the newly appointed dresser on the left. For years, we kept here a different mid century dresser - this one from my husband's side of the family - but my eldest took it with her when she moved out. So it seems only natural to replace the old birch model with one of the walnut specimens.
^ Ideally, this dresser is reserved for guests and visiting daughters to stash their clothes away. Same goes for the army of empty hangers above. But I confess that I have already stuffed the bottom drawer full of my elder daughters' Beanie Baby collection and I am surprisingly tickled to have them close at hand.
Yes, that is a blank canvas propped up against the closet wall. I'm working on a painting to fill in the space where clothes used to be. An empty closet feels lonely and sad, and we can't have that.
* * * * *
So now the dressers' transformation is complete. In the past few days, since I finished this project, I find myself popping into my daughters' old bedroom several times a day just to visit my mom's walnut dressers. They look happy here in their new home, and I think my mom would be pleased.