When I was a little boy, my mother committed a horrible crime against humanity. She took a beautiful and very old dressing vanity and…painted it pink. In her defense, it was the Sixties, natural wood was out, and bright colors were in. It was a piece of furniture she had grown up with, made of solid black walnut with white marble slabs for a top and walnut burl veneers for accents. When she was redoing my older sister’s room in pink and white, it made perfect sense to her to give the old dark dresser a makeover. Even as a young boy, I knew this was terribly wrong. I vowed to someday restore it to its original luster. When I was in high school, I took a whack at stripping the pink paint from it, but quickly grew discouraged and left it to hibernate in my parents’ garage for another 15 years.
After Jenny and I bought our first house on Churchill Road in West Palm Beach in 1990, I hauled it from Michigan to Florida, thinking it would be a beautiful addition to our new home. I set to work on it, using powerful strippers, heat guns, and razor-sharp scrapers, and I managed to get nearly all the paint off. Emphasis on “nearly.” The last five percent, mostly deep in the grain or locked into corners and crevices, just would not budge. I grew discouraged once again, slid it into a corner of my garage, threw an old sheet over it, and forgot about it for another seventeen years.
Until this past month.
The sad little vanity had been a furnace-room repository for household junk ever since we arrived in Pennsylvania in 1999. During the Christmas holiday I finally dusted it off and reevaluated it. Enough years had passed that I could now officially declare Mom’s pink-paint abomination part of its history. What paint had come off off was meant to come off, and what did not was now a chapter in its long chronicle. My thinking was this: I could demand perfection and never get it done. Or I could settle for something less and actually get to enjoy it — and chalk up the pink paint that remained as part of the piece’s colorful (sorry) back story. When I showed it to people I could tell them about the fateful day Mom, in a well-intentioned but misguided moment of home-improvement inspiration, whipped out the paintbrush.
So I set out to do the best I could without driving myself insane. I chiseled off as much of the remaining paint as I could, and sanded the entire piece with gusto, working my way from rough to medium to fine and, finally, ultra-fine grades of paper. Then I vacuumed it, wiped it down with a tack cloth and applied four coats of tung oil, buffing between each with steel wool.I found the marble slabs in the garage, still wrapped in the brown mover’s paper from nine years earlier.
The piece is now as done as it is going to get, and finally, some forty years after the crime, is back where it belongs: a part of our home. It now resides in our recreation room, and will eventually make its way up to our daughter’s bedroom, to carry on into the next generation. Yes, the pink-paint residues continue to annoy me, but I can now laugh about my mother’s bonehead improvement project, and say out loud: *Mom! What on earth were you thinking?*
The older I get, the more I seem to cherish the things that came before me. Especially those things that were part of the lives of my forebearers. I’m glad the old vanity is back. I can’t think of it without thinking of the woman who brought not only it into her family, but me, too.