The first rule of being old: love your patina

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Once, in the basement of a house I rented many years ago when I was much younger I found an old dresser in the unfinished, stone basement — in a dark corner, among the cobwebs.

Covered in dust, it’s drawers littered with mouse droppings, I brought it out into the light and proceeded to restore it, or so I thought in my foolishness.

Instead, I ruined it, destroyed the heart and spirits it had gathered over its years of service to who knows how many households, young and old, happy or not.

What stories it told: there, where a cup of hot tea left to answer a cry from above, was forgotten; and for years afterwards, I imagine now, the stain left to remember a life lost that day? I wonder.

And there, a child’s nails dug into the soft pine in utter frustration over some parental offense, or worse, a pain beyond endurance and wounds that never healed.

Abandoned in the basement, left behind with all its stories, forgotten, unwanted, damaged.

And then I came one day, with my chemical-stripper and sandpaper, and took it all away, that precious patina that told bits and pieces of the stories of lives, like fragments of an archaic scroll in a language yet to be understood. But now lost forever.

I went right down to the bare wood, so I did, finishing the preparation with 120-grit aluminum oxide paper. That’s how little I knew then.

Studying the label carefully, I applied several coats of polyurethane furniture varnish, sanding in between, buffing the last coat with a fine steel wool.

Oh, I was pleased with my work.

I stood back and fancied myself quite a furniture refinisher, even worked for a short while in the lacquer-toxic environment of a professional shop alongside a clearly deranged older man who had been there far too long.

I know better now. That old, refinished, destroyed cupboard with no patina-life on it despite its age got left behind again long ago.

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And now here I am, grown old and glossy with experience, like that good ol’ tractor, with a mark and a scar here and there that helps tell our story. Long yet may we run.

 

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