What’s in This Locked Desk?

Take a moment, close your eyes, and step into the Way Back Machine. You’re watching Mr. Rogers on TV (yes, that Mr. Rogers, of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood fame). After a brief introduction, he stands up and takes a short stroll from his living room set into his kitchen set, all the while talking and smiling at the camera. Once in the kitchen, he starts pulling miniaturized landmarks of his Neighborhood of  Make Believe from a shelf on the wall and examines them. There’s King Friday’s castle, the owl’s house, Lady Elaine’s Museum-Go-Round, and so on. As he looks at them and arranges them on the kitchen table, the premise of a story that will ultimately be played out by live action figures begins to unfold.

Photo from Playbuzz

This post is like that.  (Well, I mean the part about taking things off the shelf and examining them, not really the part about King Friday’s castle and make-believe neighbors. Come to think of it, this is a metaphor that lost its way. Forget about all of that. This week’s post is about looking at stuff in my desk). 


Many years ago, long before I could really afford it, I bought a circa 1920s secretary desk that I had fallen in love with at an antique shop in Topeka. I agonized over this desk; it was more expensive than anything I had ever purchased at the time. I came to the shop often to visit it over a period of several weeks before I ultimately clutched my heart and pulled out my credit card. On that last visit, I saw that the shopkeeper had taped a small HOLD sign on one of the glass panes of the hutch, and I literally stopped breathing.  Someone else intended to buy my desk. It felt like betrayal. I marched straight over to the shopkeeper and asked for the story. A young woman, it turns out, had requested the hold a couple of days earlier so she could bring cash for the purchase.  Her intention had been to return that same day, but she didn’t come back.  I told the shopkeeper that I was prepared to buy the desk right then and there, so she called the young woman to let her know.  The young woman had changed her mind.

I wasn’t making much of a salary back then, and I had to pay the desk off in installments, but when it was finally released to my custody, I thought it was the finest piece of furniture anyone could own. Since then it’s traveled with me as I’ve moved from place to place, and it currently sits in my bedroom. When I moved to my present home, I followed the moving team around, clucking like a hen, urging them to be careful with my baby.  It made the trip safely, but, I’m sure, not without a lot of eye-rolls and arched brows on the part of the moving men.

My circa 1920s drop down secretary desk. Still one of my favorite pieces of furniture after many years.

My desk is dark oak with a drop front, two drawers, and a hutch with thin glass panes on three sides. It came with a lovely little skeleton key, which I inserted into one of the drawers several years ago and have been unable to remove.  It isn’t a big desk as secretaries go; I’ve seen much bigger ones.  Even so, in my small room it commands the space around it.  I like many things about this desk, but I think the old brass locks may be the most intriguing to me—even though they’re unusable as long as that key is lodged in the bottom drawer!  I like the idea of happy secrets known only to oneself, and this is the perfect place in which to tuck them.

It’s raining today, and there’s a light, low mist hovering over the golf course. So, with nothing better to do, why don’t we turn the latch, see what’s inside, and examine the parts, Mr. Rogers style.


Up Top: The Glass Case

Small poetry books. I have tons of these beautiful little books; even so, my set is not yet complete. They aren’t old; they’re readily available through Amazon. I like them because I can find just about any poem for any occasion just by leafing each small volume. I am a voracious reader of novels and short stories. Poetry is harder for me to digest. But these are not books to read through. They’re books in which to find a verse or a line that conveys something monumental in the turn of a phrase.
Detail of two covers. These books are in the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets series.
I honestly don’t know where this came from, but I like it. It usually sits next to my Jeannie bottle.
English miniatures from Tey Pottery. OK, I guess this really is a bit like Mr. Rogers Neighborhood of Make Believe. In my case I have a little English Village of Make Believe. I have these little charmers in various places around my house, not just in my secretary desk.
This brass vase is another childhood relic. I was a huge I Dream of Jeannie fan back in the day. I loved this vase because I thought it looked like the bottle in which Jeannie lived. It didn’t look like this at all, by the way, but back then all I needed was a little imagination to transform it.  The purple vase in the background is Murano glass.  I bought it on vacation in Italy.
This small plate is another relic from childhood.  It is actually a saucer that’s missing its cup.  When I was little, I used to set up shop and pretend like I was selling things.  This plate was kept in a low cabinet in our living room and was easily accessible, so it often made its way into the center of my merchandising displays.  Now it’s in my hutch.
A miniature screen. This is the kind of thing you might find in a tourist shop. I bought it years ago at a flea market.


Down Below:  Drop Down Writing Desk

Behind the lock…part of my ephemera collection! When I’m sorting my pieces or looking for a particular image, this is often where I’m sitting. By the way, the images of Jesus and St. Mary that are in the middle of the picture are new acquisitions. Just this weekend I picked up a packet of old cards and advertisements for $3 at a local shop.  The larger card with St. Mary on it is a postcard postmarked 1915.

So, that’s what’s behind the golden lock.   As I’ve written this post I’m left with an appreciation for the stories told by the things around us.  I think that’s why I’m so enthralled by people’s houses.  There’s nothing more fun to me than visiting someone in their native habitat.  I don’t care how grand or simple a person’s home is, nor do I care if it’s decorated in a way that appeals to my particular aesthetic.  My interest is in what their homes say, in the choices the people have made,  in the items that are most meaningful to them, and in the objects that have pride of place in china cabinets, kitchen shelves, or glass hutches.

Until next time…

Jennifer Passariello




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