I don’t even know what to call it. A board? A plank? A tabletop? None of these do it justice. None implies the shear heft of this chunk of wood.  I found it early on, exploring my new neighborhood, looking for idiosyncrasies or treasures in the alleyway behind my house, a hidden thoroughfare whose primary features included cratered pavement and mosquitoes. I rarely drove my car through that alley due to concern over damaging my tires and wheels. And I rarely walked back there either, fearful of encephalitis caught from the clouds of tiger mosquitoes that swarmed the alley day and night.

As soon as I saw it, I wanted it—a huge piece of lumber ten feet long, three feet wide and two inches thick. And not two inches like a two by four, which in 1964 became an inch and a half. This board must be as old as me, so a full two inches. It sat three houses up the hill, propped against an ancient stockade fence, the posts and boards slanting inwards under the strain.

In a mansion, I could envision the plank sanded smooth, its edges molded, stained mahogany and placed upon great, intricate legs, bowed and carved all fluer-de-lis. A side board in a barrister’s dining room. On a farm, the table would sit outside, down the steps from the kitchen door in a dusty yard scattered with hens and hounds. Its legs, lag-bolted four by fours, supporting the plank. The table-top the color of a five-day scab, immune now to any scrubbing due to years of butchering the unfortunate animals that fed the family.

In my tiny house, no wall could accommodate a ten-foot table without blocking a doorway or a closet. I had no obvious use for it. The plank sat, unattended, aging in the elements, waiting to be snagged by some lucky scavenger. I only hoped it could one day be me.

When Sophie was born, I strapped her into a chest pack and walked endless loops around our neighborhood, up and down streets, in and out of alleys. I narrated our walks with a constant banter. “This is the house where the college students live. See their stack of kegs? And this is the cool board that lives in our alley year after year.” Mosquitoes whined in my ears and dive-bombed Sophie’s tender cheeks, thankful for an uncontested meal.  I grabbed the top-right corner of the plank and tried to hoist it partially off the ground, unable to gain sufficient grip on the heavy wood to make any progress.  

Quiet family life and cities don’t mix, at least not for my wife and me. Exhausted by the constant drone of traffic, frustrated by our inability to hold an outdoor conversation without a delivery truck rattling past, we selected a small town two hours north. The house we chose included a huge unfinished basement begging for a home-built oversized workbench. Despite the moving company charging by the pound, we loaded up that behemoth board and brought it with us.

Our kids are grown now, our next move sits on the horizon. My workbench served me well for twenty years. You might say it met my wildest dreams. When we move, we’ll leave it behind. Our next house will be smaller than our first. My life once again won’t include space for a massive piece of lumber. I only hope whoever buys our house appreciates the grandeur of my beautiful board as much as I do.

Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

14 thoughts on “Treasure

  1. I can so relate to this. The search for interesting things. We have an old washing machine that houses tulips and daffodils. I dream of such a treasure. I feel we deserve a picture.

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  2. A friend of ours found a beautiful piece of oak at a timber yard, and fashioned it into a bench for our wine cellar. The curve of the wood follows the curve of the sandstone footings, the two elements complementing each other perfectly. It’s not something I’d like to leave behind when we eventually downsize.

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    • No, it sounds too nice to leave behind. When I talk about leaving something behind, I will talk with the new owners to make sure they want it. The last two houses I bought had dozens of half full cans of paint in them that I needed to dry out and trash. I’ll never take possession of a house with paint cans again.

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  3. There must be something in the air, Jeff. We decided to downsize and placed our house on the market this week. I was thinking about one of your recent posts and deciding what I could leave behind for whoever takes over our current house. Nothing as grand as your work bench though.

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  4. I can’t help wondering where that mammoth piece of wood came from in the first place. How did it get there? I would have fallen in love with that, too, not so long ago, and would have wanted to turn it into a piece of furniture as you did. Nowadays, I tend to go for white, streamlined furniture on the rare occasions I buy any. My father would have given his eye-teeth for it as he was a pine furniture maker who then widened his skills to building pine kitchens. “Solid pine, not that laminate stuff,” he’d say. I’m glad you found a good use for it in the end. What will you do with it if your prospective house buyers don’t want it, although I appreciate it will be some time before you move yet?

    I love how you describe walking through the streets and alleys with Sophie when she was a baby. I expect you talking to her non-stop built up a close relationship between you. What a lovely father-daughter relationship to have.

    When I moved into my house many moons ago, I found one of those heavy old iron roller lawnmowers in the garden shed, a whole load of tins of fence varnish (gone completely solid), a few broken patio slabs and an entire roll of rusty metal fencing. I can’t get to the shed anymore, but I think the old lawnmower is still out there. If I ever move, which I hope I don’t, I might have to think about disposing of it somehow.

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    • Susan did the same thing as me (to an even greater extent). I think Sophie was out and about her first several years of her life. Because Sophie was breast feeding, we accompanied Susan on a work trip to Seattle and I think she and I saw half the city on foot. We had a lawnmower like that in DC, steel, weighed a ton. When we first moved to Gettysburg, pregnant Susan went out and tried to mow our quarter acre lawn with it. Very embarrassing for me (the man of the house in a very conservative area). We quickly went out and bought a gas mower so I wouldn’t be accused of being abusive.

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  5. Love this story about your workbench. Perhaps when you sell the house, you should print out this post and leave it on the bench. I suspect it will give the new owners a deep appreciation for this beautiful board as it did me!

    Liked by 2 people

    • So, I haven’t been in my basement since I wrote this because I screwed up my back. I began to wonder if I ‘oversold’ the board. I just went down to look at it and it really is a very absurd piece of wood. With my back in the state it is, I couldn’t help but worry that I’ll need to haul the workbench out of the basement. With the added legs and an extra shelf it must weigh well over 200 pounds, I’ve randomly shared stuff in the past that I’ve written with people. I’m always so embarrassed when I do that–even with family. Doubt I’d ever leave an essay behind..

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