There is a flat file in one of the old workrooms at the house in Rowe. It is probably 3 feet wide and 20+ inches deep ( I haven’t measured it yet). The room that it has been in for as long as I can remember has a tendency to be pretty damp in the spring and summer. Not having a dehumidifier has caused a lot of strange molds to grow in and on things that have been around for an extended length of time. When my brother and I were cleaning out the room I laid claim to this particular piece. It was used by my father, grandfather and I would hazard to guess my great-grandfather as well.
I decided that I would repurpose the box itself as a table in the living room. It will need a base to bring it to height, that in itself solves one of its problems. You see this was a utilitarian piece and was “modified” over the years. It was filled with nuts and bolts, manuals and instructions, tools, spare and used parts. It also had a collection of my father’s elementary school papers. I cleaned out each drawer, everyone having its own story to tell. Electrical in one drawer, old pocket calendars and date books from the 30’s in another. There were probably 2 drawers of tools and parts for looms which seems to be an ever-present theme in every work room or shop on the property.
I kept what I could in a couple of boxes and set them aside.
The entire unit smelled of mildew so I pulled out all of the drawers and decided to let it dry and air out. It’s been doing that for over a year now. This past weekend I started cleaning it up. It cleaned as well as can be expected since it has probably close to century’s worth of dirt and grime on it. It no longer smells.
I’m in kind of a quandary about my next move. This thing is splattered in spots with paint (what looks like white paint in the photo above is actually a really reflective silver). There is some green paint splattered on the side of the cabinet towards the back. To strip and refinish or to leave it alone other than a bit more clean up. I could just redo the top making it a little smoother (the varnish is crackled at this point). I am more inclined to leave it the way it is and make up stories about what has happened to it over the years. All kinds of stories were in my head as I cleaned the stuff out of it. If there wasn’t so much mold and mildew I might have just left some of the drawers the way they were. It felt as though the ghosts of generations past were still in there.
Bill thought if I was to strip it I could bring it to people we know who refinish furniture and have them do it. I told him the little secret that really made this piece special to me. There are greasy fingerprints all over the bottoms of each of the drawers and I didn’t want them to disappear. They are the prints of three generations of working men in my family and that spoke to me more than anything else. I don’t want anything to happen to that aspect of it. The amazing part for me it the fact that no one will know about that little secret unless the drawers are removed. For me this is what has made a piece of junk into an heirloom.