BuildDirect Blog: Life at Home

The Writer’s Rolltop Desk: A Story

When I was a little girl, I begged my grandfather to let me go to estate auctions with him. It might seem like an unlikely place for a young lady to enjoy, but everything about it appealed to me. There was something so revealing about the furniture and boxes of books and small things that I didn’t recognize, all relics from someone else’s life. There was an energy that came along with the placards that held the numbers, the farmers in their overalls, the women who came prepared with sunscreen and snacks and folding chairs.

I loved to look. It never occurred to me to want anything from the auctions. It always felt too much like someone else’s things, even though they were for sale.

But when I was nine, I found it.

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It was from the estate of a woman who had passed away with no children who cared to keep her things for themselves. It was carried out the front door by two men, who had to angle it to get it through the doorway and onto the wide porch. They sat the desk down facing the audience and lifted the lid with a flourish. It was filled with tiny cubbyholes and places for pens and narrow spots for paper. It had a wide desktop that folded out, drawers underneath, and pretty hand-carved details all over it.

It had to be mine.

“Grandpa!” I hollered. “I want it! Please? Can I have it?”

The farmers chuckled. The women offered indulgent smiles. I clung to my grandfather’s arm, begging. My grandfather glared at me; he knew that my proclamation would drive the price up.

But then…

“Let’s start at 30,” the auctioneer said, and his voice began to speed up, the unique cadence of the auction voice. But the flurry of bids didn’t come. The price crept up instead, slowly, ever so slowly, until the bidding stopped at $35.

Could this really be happening?

Then there was the “Sold!” and the auctioneer pointed to my grandfather.

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It was my first rolltop desk. It was the first of many desks at which I would pass the hours of writing, first with the classic pen and paper (which at that point, had not yet become a classic), then with a typewriter, and later a word processor, and finally a sleek, modern laptop that actually looked quite at home on the antique desk.

There have been many desks since then — the one I am writing at now is a sleek and modern version of the rolltop — but that first desk holds a special place in my heart. That’s why it’s still at my childhood home, where my little sister now fills the cubbies with her own treasures, hides her most secret writings in the locking drawer and types away on homework assignments.

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Some things just stay with you, even if they are half a world away. Every time I sit down at my rolltop desk, there is the briefest moment when I remember that sweltering summer, the rolltop desk on the porch, and the quiet indulgence of a yard full of farmers who knew — just as well as I did — that particular rolltop desk was simply destined to go home with a very happy little girl.

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Shannon Dauphin Lee

Shannon Dauphin Lee is a journalist and occasional novelist with a serious weakness for real estate. When she's not writing, she and her husband are taking road trips to explore covered bridges, little wineries and quaint bed-and-breakfast inns in their beloved Pennsylvania.Shannon Dauphin Lee on Google Plus.

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