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By April 10, 2014 One Comment

Congratulations to Theresa Latini, blogger-extraordinaire, who gave birth to Eleanor Olivia on April 3! Please remember Theresa and Eleanor in your prayers. Filling in today for Theresa is a familiar voice, James Calvin Schaap. Thanks, Jim.

We weren’t poor. Shoot, we were well off, but when we moved to Iowa long, long ago, we needed furniture and somehow–I don’t know how–I got into refinishing old stuff, old stuff we’d pick up at auctions and an occasional antique store. Oak stuff–you know, the people’s wood, the wood that won the west.

We’re moving again, the house is littered with boxes, a goodly number of them open and gaping. We’re both a little edgy because moving is not a happy job and we’re now of the age that even minor impediments to daily ritual can be emotionally upsetting, you know. When I was a kid, people my age were just plain old and almost always ornery. My only memories of my own aging grandpa are of a prune-faced old grouch who announced his sober presence by the way his house-slippers dragged on the kitchen floor.

Anyway, one of my projects is itself reclaimed from our past. For the first time in years, I’m trying to make an old piece of furniture not only functional but even a little attractive. It’s homemade and it’s ancient. It was in the basement of our century-old house when we moved in, a looming old kitchen hutch full of doors and drawers, something stiff and functional and unwieldy–maybe I should just call it “a storage facility.”

It wasn’t pretty, and, trust me, I’m not about tell you that, with a little stripper and elbow grease, I discovered a treasure. That’s not where this is going.

Anyway, we had no need for this monstrous thing so, thirty years ago, we lugged it out of the basement and stood it in the garage. Now “the garage” was a barn at our old place, a town barn, that sat on the lowest point of our lot. That barn was home for this beastly thing for all of the years we lived there–and, yes, sometimes it stood in water, sometimes ice. We weren’t kind to it. Inside I kept stuff I never looked at, even some two-stroke oil and other hazmat-like gunk I didn’t want on the floor.

Look, we’re talking ratty here. Even when it was built, it wasn’t expensive. It never stood on any showroom floor.


But it is unusual. Yes, unusual is perhaps the right word. Well, wait a minute–it’s not really unusual because just about anyone our age (trust me on this) has one somewhere in his or her memory. Once upon a time, this behemoth beast held sugar and flour, I’m sure, and all kinds of baking ingredients. We like to believe, although we may be wrong, that it was likely built into our old house when that place was built, a century ago.

So when we said goodbye to that house, my wife says, sort of pleadingly, we were going to take it with–even though it stood out in the barn for close to thirty years, even though it hadn’t been cleaned in that time, even though it stood in floods and ice and held dusty, dirty, oily stuff. “I think I’d like it along,” she said.

For the last couple of weeks–remember, I’m retired–I’ve been redoing it, stripping it of its coat of many colors. Yesterday, I painted it, a flat white primer over the rather sweet patina-look it held from a stain someone laid on it when, long ago, it was sawed up and hammered together.

It’s a wreck really, but this morning it’s out there in the shed in its own brand new long underwear, standing far more proudly than it’s ever stood in our possession before. Look, it ain’t pretty–trust me–but it just might work. The plan is to grace it with a new counter-top (the Formica that was there ran chills up your spine), then to drop in a sink and faucet, paint it some soft-spoken earth tone, and turn it into a little wet bar, if I can get that relic looking as if deserves a place in a brand new house, make that home.

And that’s why this morning I’m thankful for the job, and for reclamation, for transformation, for redemption itself.

You knew I was going to say that.

This morning I’m thankful that a hundred years ago some guy (I know, I’m sexist) built a big old kitchen hutch for the the new house the town veterinarian was building, slapped that thing together functionally and sturdily enough to withstand its own first forty years, then thirty years of student life in the basement and thirty years of thoughtless abandonment in a town barn that all too regularly flooded by way of April showers.

What I’m saying is, there’s hope. And hope is a treasure, especially for someone who’s starting to drag his slippers across the kitchen floor.

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.

One Comment

  • Kathleen says:

    I love this article!!!! I remember old furniture and re-paintings etc. Redeeming the old and making it new – just as God has done for us. We are new in Christ – thanks be to God.

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