It was almost brand new, probably less than 75 years old, and in great shape if you saw past the peeling laminate finish and scratches. Best of all, it was Sunday, and pick-up day on this street wasn’t until Tuesday (some things frugal people just can’t un-know), so this little beauty was fresh!
Now, all I had to do was fit a four-foot vanity into a three foot trunk. Never one to shy from a challenge, I backed my car as close as I could and planned my assault. In my youth I would have simply picked it up and stuffed it in, then fixed whatever damage I did later. Now, with 50-plus years of bodily abuse behind me, I needed a different tactic. Funny how some moving blankets and rope just happened to be in my trunk, waiting for opportunity to present itself.
Fortunately, before I lifted a finger, help had arrived! He was a guy about my age, tired from moving his mother’s things from her place, his childhood home, to his. She held on to her home far longer than she should have, and eventually succumbing to an assisted living facility that did not have room for her things.
“Careful not to scratch it,” he said, as he helped me pull the drawers out of their spaces and take the mirror off of the back. “You can replace the laminate if you’re handy,” he continued, “and if you go over it with some of that stuff the consignment shops use it will be as good as new.”
We worked together taking his mom’s vanity apart, placing part of it in the back seat and the rest of it in the trunk. “I’ve got another blanket and some better rope,” he said, and I let him take charge of the operation.
“Why don’t you keep it?” I asked, curious now, as he seemed reticent to let another piece of his mom go. “My wife would have liked it,” he explained, “but we lost her last year to breast cancer; just me and my son, now, and we just don’t have room for it.”
Repairing old things is a labor of love under normal circumstances. This project meant a little more.
A woman spends a lot of time at her vanity; it is her place, filled with things only she understands. I removed some pins from the creases in the drawer bottoms, peeled some old labels from the sides, filled nail holes that held … photographs? Love letters? Shopping lists? Maybe all three but I will never know; some secrets are never meant to be revealed.
I polished the brass, scoured the wood, inside and out, shined the mirror and put it back together. When I was done it didn’t look all that different than it did on the curbside.
Half of the fun of recycling something is the thinking that accompanies the work. Mundane tasks allow the mind to wander. I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the man who had to let go of both his wife and, soon, his mother. And I thought about his son, who had lost his mom and, inevitably, his grandmother. The fact that I was doing the work in hopes of making the woman in my life a little happier was not lost on me.
The things we accumulate as life moves on are disposable, even those things that mean the world to us while we are living. We may not be able to “take it with us,” but we can certainly leave some things behind.