“It’s over here behind this old headboard,” my uncle said as he led me to a dark corner of the old barn. “I remember helping your grandfather move the chest here. Wow, that has to be thirty years ago now. Not sure why he wanted you to have it, but he called it out special in his will.”
A hole-ridden and stained blanket covered the chest, and as we uncovered it, I could see that it hadn’t done much good. The finish was, for the most part, a crazed and blotchy gray-black. Some yellow paint had been spilled in one corner; a can ring from a light blue occupied another corner, and a piece of one of the feet was missing.
I looked at my uncle, who offered, “Maybe there’s something inside.” I pushed the button on the front of the chest. “Locked,” I said. We looked the piece over and under looking for a key, but finally my uncle said, “Well, I’ll help you load it. Perhaps we will find the key with some other of your grandfather’s belongings.”
Glancing at the chest in my rearview as I drove out the drive, I concluded that there must be something of worth enclosed.
Arriving home, I put the chest on my workbench and began looking for something to pick the lock. After several failed attempts, I finally managed to put the necessary bend into a stiff wire, and I was ecstatic when I felt the lock turn over.
Carefully lifting the lid, I was taken to another time. The smell was one I remembered from childhood. It was the old house on Henley Road. As I peered inside, the chest was mostly empty. The interior walls were smooth wood and a small multicolored woven rug lay on the floor.
It and the broken piece of the chest foot was the sum of its contents.
Looking for a secret floor or compartment produced nothing, and I found myself just staring at the old chest. Time passed and the thought occurred that maybe he had willed the piece to me as I was the only one in the family that could restore it.
Weeks passed with the old chest sitting on my workbench. By now I had looked at every conceivable place for a hiding spot. Finding none, I concluded that out of love and respect for my grandfather, I would restore the chest.
Picking up some denatured alcohol the next day, I began to cut through the blackened coats of shellac. A beautiful checkerboard of maple and walnut, bordered in ebony, began to emerge as the old finish was removed. The piece seemed to come alive, as the nature of the various woods could once again be seen. I was amazed at the detail and craftsmanship evident in its creation.
The blue paint turned out to be oil-based, and although I stripped and even sanded, a slight ring could still be seen. But the yellow paint proved to be the hardest of the stains to remove; it had cut through the shellac finish and soaked deep into the wood. Sanding just didn’t seem to make it better. I finally decided that while these “character spots” didn’t allow the piece to be perfect, when I had glued on the piece of the foot and given the chest several coats of lemon oil, it was indeed an individual thing of beauty. Full of toys, and a great place for games, the piece now has real purpose.
In many respects we are just like the treasure chest. Once we are taken from the dark corner, it doesn’t matter how deep our stains go; in the hands of the Master Craftsman we can be restored. Our finished product may not be perfect, but with our purpose revealed, even the “character spots” we have will be used to bless others.