“I can’t do anything with it.”

Accountants have their time of the year just before tax day.  Wedding planners work their butts off on Saturdays in June. The post offices and other shipping companies have their times during the holiday rush.

This is my time of the year at work.  Hurricane season begins June 1, and I field a bunch of phone calls.  From the media looking for story ideas.  From other public information officers looking to share information before we head into the season. From groups around the county looking for a speaker to talk about hurricane preparedness.

It’s a busy job, but someone has to do it.

That’s why I wasn’t too surprised a few weeks ago when my desk phone rang. It wasn’t a number I recognized, but that’s par for the course this time of the year.

I introduced myself, and the lady on the other end of the phone asked if I was THE Tom Iovino.  I know there are others out there, but I think I’m the only one on the west coast of Florida.  “You are the woodworker, right?”

Now, that was an odd one for me. I never get calls about my woodworking at my day job. I like to keep it that way – as does my boss.

“I am,” I responded. At that point, she started talking about her father who recently passed away.  He had some furniture in his home, and she was asking if I could take it, break it up and use it to build other projects.

“You’ll have to come today to pick it up,” she said. “We are closing on the place tomorrow and it has to be vacated. I can’t do anything with this.”

I asked a few more questions. It was a desk and a clothes dresser. She believed he had purchased the pieces back in the 1940s.   It was also very high quality, either made of some kind of oak or mahogany. She couldn’t tell. All the drawers were dovetailed. The pieces were solid. Her dad had used the desk to run his personal accounts.

I’m not one to pass on free wood. If someone were offering me a few sweet timbers, I’d leap at the opportunity to snatch them up. And, the temptation to get someone with a truck, run up to this place and hoist some sweet timbers-to-be back to my shop was very difficult to overcome.

But, then, a completely different thought entered my mind. Somewhere back in the piece’s time line, a skilled craftsman searched through a stack of boards to find the right ones to build these pieces. They were milled, cut to size and carefully laid out. Since through dovetail joint jigs weren’t around before the 1970s, there was probably a good bit of hand work to make those dovetails on the drawers. Planing and sanding. The careful application of a finish.

I couldn’t bring myself to break apart well-built and well-used pieces of furniture to build other projects. I guess it’s a reverence for the skill of the person who built the project in the first place.  Or the vision in my mind’s eye of the former owner sitting over it, late at night, tracking his family’s finances, doing his tax returns or writing a heartfelt letter to a loved one.

The furniture – in essence – was worth well more than just the sum of its parts.

After she finally explained the situation with me, I told her no, I couldn’t possibly do that to a piece of quality furniture. I did, however, tell her to call the local Salvation Army office to arrange a pick up of the dresser. At least that would give the piece a little bit more time to find a suitable home.

As for the desk, I searched for the numbers of the three nearest public schools and read them off to her. I told her about how my wife was working on a beat up, rickety desk  until one of the school’s administrator changed schools, leaving his more capable desk for her to use. I told this lady that one of these schools would love to get a sweet piece of furniture to replace an outdated desk in a teacher’s classroom. She promised that she would call to arrange some kind of pickup for a deserving teacher.

I hung up the phone feeling as if I had provided at least a stay of execution for two well-crafted pieces of furniture.  At the end of the day, I felt that was something she could do with the pieces.


2 thoughts on ““I can’t do anything with it.””

  1. The dresser thanks you, the desk thanks you, and all of us who feel the same way, thank you.
    Good work Tom.

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