The cloudy windows obscured the view from within and diffused any natural light that would otherwise blanket the room in comfort and illumination. Slowly, he stripped his mother’s home, one piece at a time until the remaining item was to be collected by someone else, and only when the memory of her found its place from inside her apartment to the inside of his heart. The possessions that made up her home: a well-worn couch, an easy chair, and a wrought-iron café table for two, to name a few, found their sitting places elsewhere. But a writing desk was held back from moving.
From laughter to serious chats, Olga and my mother shared everything, everything best friends do. When in their twenties, they spent their summer vacations together abroad, shared stories of their marriages and kids, jobs, subsequent divorces and maintained a friendship for over sixty years.
Decades earlier, when my girlhood home on Carlisle was sold because of my parents divorce, its contents needed to be reduced to fit into a townhouse. Our possessions were the many bones of memories that made up a skeletal structure of the house, my connections to home. Removing the bones seemed to disconnect the living, breathing movement of the whole. Back then I wondered if I could remain connected to my home though its structure had been diluted.
A few years later, my mother faced another downsizing and moved into a condo. Our remaining possessions were whittled down again, condensed into a microcosm of our home, a concentration of necessary goods that evolved to the strongest of connections that originated from the only place we really considered home. I mourned that which I was not able to hold on to as my mother dispersed our furnishings to places best suited for their continued use.
But there was one item from the living room my mother held back from dismissing it to a destination unknown.
Olga had been well-established in her apartment when my mother reached out to her best friend. “Can you take this desk and keep it? I have no room for it.” Olga accepted.
My mother’s connection to a writing desk could not be broken. The furniture piece was a statement in elegance and design, a representation of my mother’s own style and verve, and it matched its living room mates in the Carlisle house as if a lost puzzle piece made a puzzle whole. Connections were about making things whole, complete.
The writing desk in Olga’s apartment was centered on a wall opposite her couch. It looked grand in its French Provincial style with shapely curved legs, carved out corners and wooden inlay surface. When I took my mother to visit Olga one day, I stared especially long at it while sitting on the couch from across the room. I remembered its place in my girlhood home, positioned in front of a picture window so that when seated, you could glance out to see my birch tree waving at you with its thin branches and slender, wavy leaves.
My connection to this writing desk had never really been broken as my feelings of what home is—protection, comfort, security— surfaced. I was instantly in a good place to be, remembering my tree, as my eyes claimed the connection straight ahead.
“That’ll be yours again, one day,” Olga said, noticing my concentration on a familiar piece from my home long ago.
I didn’t know then the importance the handing over the desk has for me now. I recognize its purpose was well-served decades earlier, providing space to complete hours of school homework, accommodating overlapping textbooks from high school assignments, addressing cards, and writing thank-you notes to my grandma. The desk was a testament to my self-growth where its purpose was to establish a home connection.
That day arrived. It was a chilly, rainy Saturday and the gray of the outside mirrored the gray of the inside apartment building. Olga had died; I was claiming the desk. When I walked into Olga’s apartment, it was stripped of its belongings where only worn carpeted remained, and a lone furniture piece, the writing desk, sat in the middle of the room. I recognized the familiarity of its muddy green base, and drawer pulls maintaining their hint of gold. This desk was comfort; my desk was returning home.
Returning something to an original owner says it is given back, as if once lost, now found. But our connections are never really lost. They are with us and remain just as strong as they were at their birth. Connections come full circle. Connections make things whole again.
Traveling the hour home gave me time to recall the desk’s beginnings, starting on Carlisle, over fifty years ago, to a townhouse, a condo, Olga’s apartment, then back to my home. Travel does not weaken our connections, but makes them stronger, building layers of memories with each destination visited and years spent there. Strong connections are our skeletal structure that make us feel protected and secure, like home.