One Christmas, when I was about eight, we arrived at my grandparents’ house to find a beautiful, walnut vanity dwarfing all the other gifts by the Christmas tree. In fact, it was taking over the majority of the floor space in the living room. It had a great, big, red bow affixed to the front of it and it waited, precariously in the middle of the living room to be claimed. Kind of like me at a high school dance.
It was the most gorgeous piece of furniture I’d ever seen. I pictured myself reenacting "How Lovely to Be a Woman" just like Ann-Margret in front of that mirror. I would look really awesome in front of that mirror. Like this:
Ann-Margret in Bye Bye, Birdie.
I wanted her phone, too. And her hair.
But this vanity was even better.
Everyone “oohed” and “aahed” over the vanity, running hands over the smooth wood, admiring the large, rectangular mirror. I, for one, liked the smell of it. It had the wonderful odor of hardware store—polyurethane and sawdust. I circled it, touching it, admiring it.
At least, that’s how I remember it. I probably only paused at it to admire my red-and-green plaid pants, matching green Rudolph holiday sweater (or some equally 80's-hideous outfit) and magnificent side banana clip ponytail and then trotted into the dining room to help myself to the multitude of Christmas candy.
(Speaking of “multitude,” I saw a sign on a lamppost yesterday advertising a “MULTY FAMILY YARD SALE.” That’s probably something I’d write and then stick on a sign, realizing weeks later that I’d spelled “multi” like a jackass. Unless that family’s last name is Multy. In which case, never mind.)
After forcing ourselves through the truncated formalities that are necessary before getting to the real meaning of Christmas (presents!), my extended family settled around my Grandma’s always-elegant Christmas tree to tear into the gifts. After a few of the younger grandkids opened some presents and things had slowed down a bit, everyone looked to my Grandpa.
Grandpa Charlie loved Christmas. He loved opening presents in front of us kids, peeling back the wrapping paper at an agonizingly slow pace while wondering aloud if there was a new car inside a tiny box, or maybe a trip to Europe. The grand-kids would laugh, but encourage him to hurry the hell up and find out already. (Except for we didn’t say hell. Not then. And certainly not to Grandpa.) But he also loved to give gifts, and managed to make a game out of that half the time, as well.
So, after a few visual cues from my aunts or my Mom, Grandpa stood up next to the vanity and said, “I wonder whose present this is? There’s no card on it!”
As if rehearsed, my Aunt Mel stood up and walked over to it. She stood in front of the mirror.
“It’s too short for me,” she stated, factually. That was kind of weird because she's pretty short. She sat back down.
Aunt Krissy’s husband, Ross, stood in front of the vanity.
“It’s too pretty for me.” Various family members "ho ho ho-ed" at that as he joined Krissy on the couch. ("Uncle Ross isn't pretty! He's a man! Ha ha ha!")
One by one my relatives found reasons the vanity couldn’t possibly be theirs—too shiny, too big, too wonderful.
Encouraged to participate, but nervous about what I felt sure was happening, I stood in front of the vanity.
“It’s too narrow for me,” I said, making one of my stock-in-trade "I'm fat" jokes before turning to sit back down.
Everyone talked at once.
“It IS for you, Lace!” Grandpa exclaimed, pulling me back to the vanity.
I couldn’t believe it. The wonderful, beautiful dresser was for me! Grandpa had found and painstakingly restored the gorgeous, old vanity for me! He’s stripped and sanded it, stained and sealed it for me! It must have taken ages. Especially since Grandpa never did anything particularly quickly, anyway.
I think I stood in front of that incredible gift all day. And I carefully placed all of my most prized and special possessions on and in it that night. And I probably stood, like the little girl from Poltergeist stood in front of the TV set, immobile in front of it in the dark all night long.
Grandpa Charlie died in 2005. The vanity still sits in my old bedroom at my parents’ house in Nebraska. If I ever have the money, I’m going to ship it out here and put it in my home. The smell and feel of it will remind me of him. And I’ll finally have a piece of furniture in my place that isn’t from Ikea!
In the meantime, I’ve managed to become a bit of a fixer of furniture myself. Of course, I don’t have his unyielding good taste or amazing Estate Sale eye. But I’ve been crafting a little project of my own over the last few months and it’s made me realize that while refinishing furniture is a huge pain in the ass, it’s also pretty therapeutic. I can zone out for hours while scraping paint or sanding wood. And I’m not too terrible at it, either. Plus, it keeps me off drugs. Behold the results of my latest project:
Before: Hideous, embarrassing chair.
After: Pretty effing cool chair.
Ready for a side-by-side view? 'Cuz here it comes!
I will deal with the psychology behind my 8-year-old self making a passive-aggressive fat joke at my own expense at another point in time. (Just so you know you all have something to look forward to!)
*The title of this posting is a quote from late, great acting legend Spencer Tracy.