Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Roll Top Desk


I received a catalog in the mail the other day. I receive many catalogs, and generally recycle them without a glance. But this one was full of toys and games and urged me to "share your favorite toy memory". It was supposed to sell us the old fashioned toys we remembered from our youth. I leafed through, first noticing that those good old fashioned toys had new fashioned prices, and that many also had a more modern twist than I liked. But then I saw it. A tiny version of a roll top desk with matching chair! It all came back to me.

In 1938, when I was six years old, my mother had finally agreed to divorce my father and my mother, brother and I moved from the big house to a small, semi-detached house two blocks away. We lived there for one year, until the divorce became final. It was a nice little house. Downstairs we still had living room, dining room and kitchen - just scaled down in size from the other house. Also like the other, and like many homes in those days, there was a pantry attached to the kitchen. Since there were many shelves and cabinets built in to the kitchen, my mother found this pantry almost unnecessary for her supplies, except for a few shelves where she stored canned goods. She asked me if I would like to use it as a playroom. About this time, a friend asked Mother if she would like a desk for me, since her child had outgrown it. The little desk and chair were placed in the pantry, which then became my "office". My sister was twenty years old at the time, and was a secretary in an office in the city. I adored my sister, and wanted to be just like her, so this pleased me no end.

The best part was that it was a roll top desk. I had never seen one before. I rolled that top up and down until it was a wonder it didn't break off. And there were many cubby holes and four or five drawers that offered endless possibilities. (This one doesn't have as many.) I busied myself at that desk every day. My dolls sat around the room, and I gave them orders and dictation. I was a very efficient boss. I had a little box for my pencils and pens and a space for crayons and stacks of paper.

In 1939, when I turned seven, we moved from the little house to an apartment. The little desk disappeared, as did so many things. My mother's favorite thing was throwing things away. I suppose the desk went the way of so much. Maybe that's why I tend to be a hoarder. Never want to part with anything that just might come in handy later, or maybe one of the kids will be able to use. I was pretty proud of myself eight years ago when I moved to the tiny place I live in now. I got rid of a ton of things. But I guess I was really cheating, because one of my daughters took the house I was leaving, and I have to admit that I left many, many things in the attic. They're still there.

If I had an extra $275. (plus tax and shipping) I would be tempted to buy that little roll top desk in the catalog for myself. I could put it in the back room, and who knows? - maybe my grandson would be able to use it one day.


17 comments:

pink dogwood said...

What a beautiful post - thanks for sharing your childhood.

Cliff said...

A six year old secretary. A bit young but at least you wouldn't have issues.
This post is exactly what blogging is supposed to be. Thanks.
I hope you can find a desk like that one day.

Singing Bear said...

Lovely memory, Bobbie.

Mental P Mama said...

What a poignant memory....wish you could buy that desk;)

Alida Thorpe said...

Beautiful story. I can see you in that pantry at the roll-top desk.

I'm a hoarder also for the same reason. My mother threw out my childhood memories and I promised myself I would save my sons possessions until they bought their own houses. My attic, basement and the loft in the garage is filled with their "stuff" from old toys to baseballs and bedroom furniture. I know most of it will get thrown out someday but it will have to be their decision.

Judy said...

I love this story. I had a regular sized roll top desk when my son was small and he loved that desk. He would sit there with his feet not even touching the floor and draw. Today, he is a wonderful artist and that desk sits in the living room of his home. My grandson is only 15 months but is fascinated with that desk. Maybe, there is something magical about them. This really brought back some memories Bobbie. Thanks for a great post.

Mo said...

Do you have a large rolltop desk now?

Deborah Godin said...

Another really sweet story, Bobbie. I love your observations on life and memories. I too tend to salt things away, and always think they may come in handy...til the day I simply have to get out the green garb bags and get ruthless!

Sylvia K said...

What a great look back! I could just see in my mind, the pantry and the little desk and the dolls! I suddenly remembered a little playhouse I made out of a huge cardboard box that even had a wooden frame inside -- have no idea what was shipped in it. But with a little cutting here and there, I had a door and a peaked roof -- and all my babies! I had four then (dolls) and I have four now -- real! Thanks, Bobbie!

kenju said...

I always like the look of old roll top desks and wanted one badly. When I was in college, I took a semester off and worked for the telephone company. I was the mail clerk, and I had not only an old desk with many cubbies, but a whole wall of cubbies where I sorted the mail before delivery. What I wish now is that I had had someone build a whole wall of cubbies like that in my current office!

bobbie said...

I'm glad the post brought back fond memories for so many. No, Mo, I do not have a roll top now. Yes, Alida, my mom threw away so many things I wish I had today. I remember in particular a little circular track and a Mickey Mouse handcar that ran around it. She didn't throw away dolls though - not even Irene, who was hairless, armless, and toeless due to being caught in the spokes of my tricycle.

bobbie said...

And by the way, Cliff, I did have a few issues at the age of six - mostly with my father and his ultra conservative views.

Dianne said...

I love an old roll top desk. It may sound funny but I have always found them to be comforting.

In my dream office I have one along with a grandfather clock and a shadow box on the wall :)

Lily Hydrangea said...

I purchased a small roll top desk for my son at a garage sale a few years ago. We were contemplating selling it because he needs a bigger desk.
Now I'm not sure what to do!
; )

Lily Hydrangea said...

great post by the way!

Kelly said...

What a beautiful story! I can just picture you sitting at your desk (preparing yourself for your future as a "blogger")lol.... Seriously, I just love this post, it's wonderful!!! Thanks for the great feelings this story gives me! Hope your mom kept your dolls for you!

Clara....in TN said...

I had one of those small roll top desks when my children were small. I gave it to my daughter when her children came along. I hope she never decides to throw it away. Maybe I should remind her. I'm sure it means more to me than it does her. I shall remind her this week-end when I go for a visit! Thanks Bobbie for reminding me!