Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

The Roll Top Desk and other War Stories from Downsizing Street


The son-I-wish-I-had came over recently to fix a drywall tape that had come loose on the vaulted ceiling in my garage. We keep a running tab of how much each of us owes the other…me for his labor and him for things he buys from me. Money rarely changes hands. This is nothing new. We like to barter and have been doing it for decades.

I had a cool tourist rooms globe, circa 1910, that's easily worth $900 that’s been in our virtual lay-away department since last fall and I asked Tim if he still wanted it or should I put it up for sale. “Where do we stand on our running tab?” he wanted to know. I got out the book and I owed him $563. Tim pulled a wad of cash out of his pocket, counted it out $437 and says, “I’m taking it home today.” Like I said, money rarely changes hands between us and I have strict orders not to tell his wife what he paid for the globe. Tim knows the guys who wrote the collector's guide on globes almost as well as I do and a quick phone call would get it sold, should he ever want his money back. Those guys are like head-hunters for globe collectors. They know who is looking for what.

The tourist globe is an interesting piece of Americana from the days when automobile travel first became popular and tourists were looking for rooms to rent as they used the then newly connected interstate roads. Motels were still nonexistent and travelers often pitched tents in city parks with their blessings. Enterprising people rented rooms out in their homes along the routes and got listed in guide books that were put together by entrepreneurs and visionaries. These globes were hung in the windows of private homes and if the light was on that meant their room-for-rent was vacate. (Motel-6's tag line is a throwback to those early days.) Cross-country auto races were also a gimmick to promote auto sales and auto travel in the same era and newspapers all across the country covered them. I had a small collection of circa 1910 early tourism stuff…mostly photos of auto-campsites and races, a travel guide and a how-to auto-camp book---all of which I sold on e-Bay. I still have a full, disposal paper towel dispenser with cool graphics on the front showing an auto-campsite that I’m keeping for God knows why. It doesn’t offer the same opportunities for show-and-tells as when I had more early auto tourism stuff. Yes, we were that couple who had endless stories about those 'madcap days' when horseless carriages and touring cars caused life as they knew back then to change forever.

That day Tim came over we had already made a barter deal for the drywall repair and fixing a couple of other small things around the house in exchange for an antique Morris-style oak chair that was made by the Royal Easy Chair Company that was patented in 1899. It has a push button, back recliner with seven settings and the only one who ever used the chair was Levi. It sat by the window in the library where he waited every day for pee mail from the canines out for their morning or afternoon walks. It had been his chair since puppyhood. I still catch myself momentarily forgetting he's gone. But I'm digressing from telling Tim stories.

Don had a roll top desk that he bought when Tim and his wife were living across the street as newlyweds 35-ish years ago and while he was here I told him my April goal was to sell the desk and its match filing cabinet. We started looking it over and Tim grabbed the handle to pull the rolling top closed and before I could stop him, it was locked. With the key to open it locked inside the desk. The swear words that came out of me shocked even me. He never swears. Ever. So I’ve always been careful around him not to let even the mildest swear words like ‘crap’ slip pass by my lips. And my swear-fest started the Circus Hour. He kept saying, “Don’t panic!” while we both panicked. “We’ll get it open!” He called a locksmith and got instructions on what he could try and a $90 quote to come out to solve our problem. The suggested credit card trick didn’t work. We googled the brand of lock and found keys online for $9 to $15. We tried pulling so hard that the screws were coming out of the wood until we were afraid we’d split the oak. We even considered filing those exposed screws in half.

At one point Tim looked at me and asked, “Are you laughing or crying?” “A little of both,” I replied. “This reminds me of the time Don took the drawer out of an antique National cash register and couldn’t get it back in.” The elderly man who ran the antique store where the register was up for sale was freaking out and so was Don who spent the next hour trying to get it back in place. He took the drawer out to show the guy that on the underside of those old Nationals was the date it was built, the model number and other interesting things only the release latch on this guy’s register wasn’t working properly. It was working by the time Don took it apart and put it back together but the old guy's daughter had to be called in to calm shop owner down while Don worked on it. After that day neither Tim or I would let Don touch an antique cash register which wasn't easy because it was one of his favorite "parlor tricks." Tim was with Don that day and, thankfully, I wasn't but the story had been retold so many times I felt like I was.

Back to the roll top desk. “Don’t you have a bunch of skeleton keys around here we could try?” Tim asked. “I had over 250 keys and I sold them all on e-Bay,” I told him and then I got out a 4"x"6"x1" tin box of extra keys for things I still owned to show him how few keys I still had left. Don and I took a lot of kidding over the years about the volume of our keys. We both had every obsolete key to every single thing we ever owned plus we bought skeletons whenever we found them. Not to mention we had keys for 15 vehicles that we used for business---all with locking gas caps---a four family apartment building, a storage pole barn, padlocks on gates, 3 houses plus keys to our parent's houses, 2 snowmobiles, countless tool chests and filing cabinets. We also had keys to the maintenance rooms at a shopping mall and a multiplex theater where we had to go when we needed to turn on the parking lot lights when we did snowplowing, power sweeping, fixed potholes or painted yellow lines in the middle of the night. And did I mention we had locking showcases in our vendor spaces at several antique malls? For Christmas one year I made Don a fancy wood key rack and tooled leather key tags to ID and organize all the business keys. Took me forever but it was worth it. Don loved it!

And guess what we found in the tin box I showed Tim at the end of our Circus Hour. a key carefully labeled "extra key for Don's roll top desk." I apologized up one side and down the other for wasting an hour of Tim’s time and putting us both through a lot of stress. I even offered to credit him for an hour of labor on our running tab and he says, “I got another great Don and Jean story out of it so I'm good,” and he ended by saying he wants to buy the desk and filing cabinet. He just needs to work on his wife a little bit because when he came over that day, his wife said to him as he was walking out the door, “Don’t buy any more of Jean’s furniture!”  

I offered to give Tim the $563 I owned him if it would make his wife happy to come home from my place with something other than a barter---keep the globe in lay-away a little longer. But I think he was afraid with all the people coming to pickup Marketplace purchases someone will see that tourist globe, offer me more than the $900 and I'd cave. It already happened, twice---not the caving part but the rest. Tim is restoring a vintage Airstream camper up at his cottage with all mid-century vintage kitsch stuff. Apparently, there's a whole network of retro travelers who seek out and pay good money to go back in time to vacation like we did back in the 40s, '50s and '60s. The tourist globe will serve a similar purpose to the way it was used back when it was made only it will go in his cottage window instead of the Airstream's window that is permanently parked next door. When he gets it finished I'm going to reserve some time to stay there. ©

33 comments:

  1. I've never heard of tourist globes -- what an interesting history. I must say, when you first began talking about the need to downsize, I had no idea what a project it was going to be. I think I would have reached the point of piling everything up on the curb with a sign that said "FREE" long ago, Of course, nothing I had was nearly so valuable. It's easier to give away stuff you don't want and probably couldn't see for more than a couple of bucks.

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    1. That globe was always one of my favorite things. Not only is it pretty it's got a great story behind it. We used to buy unusual stuff like that, then spend however long it took to find out about it. Easier now with the internet but back in our collecting days, before google, we'd carry photos to antique shows and museums and study books. One time we saw a picture of an object we owned but didn't know what it was on the cover of a museum brochure in Texas and we took a 150 mile detour to go to the Gilmore Oil Museum to ID what we owned. Old things have stories to tell and aren't so easy to just pile on the curb. Stuff from Ikea, Mayfair and Home Goods I could do it in a heartbeat...just don't have that kind of thing.

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  2. Oh my, another great story. Your endless supply of things to downsize has me wondering how large your house is though.

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  3. These are all such great stories. I have to say that my sympathies lie with Tim's wife, however; I can only imagine my own husband being gone often--working hard--and coming home with more stuff to fill my home.

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    1. Tim is good at selling stuff as well as acquiring it. He's a wheeler dealer with a good eye fro what he can make money on. They have a rule that anything he brings home she gets first dibs on before he'll trade or sell it.

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  4. What a great relationship you and Tim have. He really has some of your genes. Funny about the key and glad it was solved.
    Hope Tim's wife doesn't know about your blog or both your gooses are cooked:)

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    1. Don was like a father figure to Tim. He has a mother he's very fond of so I am more friend than relative-close. But he's truly my best friend.

      Only three people I know face-to-face know about and read my blog.

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  5. I can see why Tim must have gotten along with your Don. Interesting collectors - the 3 of you! You certainly know what you are talking about and have the research and knowledge to sell your items carefully (and quickly too!).

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    1. Don taught Tim well on the collecting and buy-sell front of life. Don was a great roll model when it came to working hard, too.

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  6. Fascinating history of the travel industry beginnings. And what a heart stopper on the locked desk. Sometimes having extras of everything comes in handy! When we moved last summer, I ended up with a little bag of random keys and none were labeled. Nothing like your collection! But I am keeping them for a bit and then I'll just pitch them. We had a variety of furniture pieces from our former employer and sold a fair amount of it, so I'm guessing the keys were from things we no longer own.

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    1. You should make an art & crafts project with those keys. That's what people on e-Bay are doing with the bulk keys they buy. I once made a mobile out of a bunch of old and fancy keys. I've seen them glued together to make picture frames, too and on wooden boxes.

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    2. That sounds cool, but these are not very interesting TBH. :-) They look like extras from a recent doorknob replacement (think Ace Hardware dupes), little keys from a file cabinet, etc. Nothing visually interesting like your skeleton keys.

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  7. The things you collect are fascinating to me. I enjoy reading about them. I just would never collect all this stuff so it facinates me on that level you know?
    I paid a lot of money for antique keys online for a shower once. They were a hit and then I gave them all away. I don't like keeping things as you do. I have too much already but in all honestly what do I need besides the photos? I recall when my grandmother died they kept asking me to take this or that. First of all it was all ugly to me. Second of all it wasn't Grandma. I didn't care about her things. I cared about her! Her priced possessions she gave to her daughter. I wanted to remember her singing when we made meatballs together. Her telling me dirty jokes in a whisper after she had a couple of drinks with me on Friday's after work. Her love of Greek hotdogs which I would bring on those Friday's after work. Those happy hours with her mean something. Those are the things I will cherish. Not a piece of costume jewelery or an old antique table which I would have no use for. Not her "stuff" If she had given me something - that is far different. But just to unload her stuff and pass it out - no thanks. Habitat for Humanity or as you did - sell it and make some money. I do not collect. I am the opposite of Jean. 🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣
    and at the same time I would wonder through your home telling you, "ooh that's a nice desk" because I would realize it's a nice desk but not for me. Know what I mean? I love to browse antique stores too. You could charge me admission and make even more money!

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    1. I never had grandparents growing up or even de facto grandparents to have memories of spending time with them. My best friend, did and when we'd walk to one set of her grandparent's house after school he'd tell us the most fascinating stories about his stuff. When I first starting shopping in antique and second hand stores when I was 17 I'd always imagined the stories they could tell which led to researching them and fast forward today. Someone has to collect stuff or it would never find its way into museums after time has declared this or that an iconic thing of its time. Lots of people don't like old stuff or old buildings but that's okay. You spend a lot of time following baseball and that would bore me to death. It all evens out in the wash.

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    2. Oh gosh Jean, your stuff doesn't bore me it fascinates me as I said in my first line. Like the gas light for example. I like old stuff and old buildings - just don't like to collect. That is quite different. I also don't have a home that large because if I did collect, you'd see me on Hoarders :-) As I have said before you are fortunate to have all this space to house it all. Sometimes I think you read my posts and take them the exact opposite as they were meant and for that I am very sorry.

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    3. It's not you, Margaret. Reading comprehension is not always fundamental for me. LOL

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  8. Tourist globes are a fascinating bit of Americana. As a child my parents inherited a Morris-style oak chair like the one in your photo. My mother hated it, so she got rid of it. Don't know how, just know it wasn't around one day. I also remember those roll top desks. They scared me as a child. I was afraid I'd get locked inside it and no one would find me!

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    1. God, a kid could crawl inside my roll top and get locked in! Maybe that's why mine has a couple of perfect air holes. LOL

      All those old Mission, Morris, Stickley and sleepy-hollow chairs either fit you or they don't thus it's a love them or hate them thing.

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  9. You are so lucky to have a great son by friendship! Between the two of you, this downsizing project is moving right along. Looks like you will be done just in time! Congrats on continuing to push forward! This would have been too formidable for me!

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    1. Moving from the islands to the mainland would have been too formidable for me! Buying and selling and bartering stuff has been a life-long thing for me. I worry I won't be me without it.

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  10. You have such great stories! I appreciate your sharing them. Sure glad you got the rolltop desk unlocked!!

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    1. You should have heard my husband's stories. He was a master at spinning them and living them.

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  11. What an interesting piece of history

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    1. Sometimes I forget what is common knowledge and what isn't.

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  12. Naturally, not being of the place, I have no idea what some of your things are or represent. But you are getting a lot of mileage out of them, first collecting them, then admiring them during their long tenure with you, now rediscovering them and selling them. Not to mention the stories you tell about them.

    I wish I could borrow your handyman/wishful thinking son.

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    1. Trust me, some of the things we've collected over the years people who've lived here their entire lives don't know what they are. We've always been attracted to the obsolete stuff of life that tells a story of how life used to be.

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  13. WOW. Thanks for the history lesson. I had no idea about tourist stuff. Interesting. Sure was a different time, huh? And the roll top desk story...sounds like something I'd do....

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    1. I was so embarrassed on so many levels it wasn't funny.

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  14. Oh Jean, this is priceless. I would be so panicked and it is only sheer luck (and good planning on Don's part to have a spare key) that you found it. Yes, Tim has a great story to add to his collection. I'm glad you've found a good home for that chair and hopefully the desk, too. I love the bartering plan. Terrific!

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    1. When the move is said and done and Tim and I settle up our barter I'll owe him a chunk of change. Even though he's got a lot in my 'lay-away' he's going to be doing a lot of work for me over the summer.

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  15. Tim has an Airstream and he's Pimping his Pull, now I'm Green with Envy! At this Acreage we have room again for me to buy one and I swear I will, I've wanted one forever, most of my Friends in the Industry have Pimped Out a Vintage Trailer of some kind, Airstreams being the most desirable of coarse. I wouldn't go Glamping in mind anywhere except right here beside the RV Garage. *LOL* And it would be nice for Guests, whenever Pandemic ends. That Globe, I've never seen one and the History and Back Story was fascinating, I wondered why the lettering was upside down. I know in my Mom's Childhood in Wales, my Nanna took in 'Boarders', single Working Men, which was common in those Days... now you wouldn't want to risk inviting a Stranger, especially a Single Man, into your Home and especially around your Children. But, those were kinder and gentler times I guess and they never had problems with their 'Boarders' and it was a stream of income most appreciated during Wartime and when there weren't Hotels and Motels so prolific as they are in Modern times.

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    1. The letters on the globe are not upside down. The globe fits a standard hanging chain light fixture or wall sconce which turns the globe over.

      I was kind of shocked at how popular vintage Airstreams are to rent for a week, like going to a B&B without the breakfast. I shouldn't have been, knowing how crazy people are about restoring vintage cars and old houses. Tim's one of those Jacks-of-all-trades who can do all his own work on the restoration plus with his work cleaning out estates he finds all the good stuff so every detail will be authentic when he's done right down to the picnic baskets, linens and games for rainy days.

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