I was six or seven. We lived at 1917 Francis Street in Grand Rapids near Garfield Park. Aunt Sue and Uncle Rich lived the next block over on Horton, I believe. A little path cut through the block to their house. Sue is my mother’s sister.
Dad was in Vietnam. Mom was pregnant with my little brother Kevin. Mom and Sue, working together, created a room for me on what used to be a narrow back porch. The room was probably six feet by eight and it ran along the back of the little bungalow. Four windows, I think, were set in the back wall, looking out over the back yard.
There were three pieces of furniture in my room. There was an arm-chair school desk across from the door in the corner. There was a narrow cot with a wooden frame, and there was a tiny dresser, the one in the picture below.
Mom and Sue has painted all three pieces of furniture with an “antique” style in blue with black streaks. They all matched. The cot went along the back wall. The dresser set next to it. On the dresser was a small lamp and a green ceramic Cocker Spaniel bank my Aunt Sue made for me. (Mom and Dad were trying to teach a very impulsive boy to save money).
They also made curtains for the windows and a bedspread and pillowcase to match. They were blue with black trains on them. Old trains.
I was about six years old then, so mom must have been about 26. It was in that room I lay one night and listened to my mother talking to her friend Joyce Loye. She told her that my dad had bought me a transistor radio for Christmas. I wasn’t supposed to hear, but I am as curious as I am impulsive and too hyper and ADD to go to sleep at 7:30 when someone is talking about Christmas on the phone in the next room. Dad would be home around the first of the year, but he would send us gifts for Christmas. I think my brother Kevin was born in the spring, in March the coming year.
It was in that room that I slept with my first ball glove under my pillow to break it in. Dad bought if for me for 5.98 at Meijer Thrifty Acres on day after he returned from Vietnam. Back then (in about 1966) 5.98 could buy a very nice full-leather ball glove that would last all your life if you were organized and careful and not impulsive. In the spring of one of my teen years I could not find the glove. It must have been lost or misplaced in a move. I never saw it again, but I always know where to fund it in my memory.
Later, in the summer, I would lay in that bed and listen to the Detroit Tigers on my new radio. I have been enamoured with radios ever since.
I called my folks Sunday night and mom mentioned that she needed a few drawers to set next to her chair and keep oft-needed items close at hand. I immediately thought of little piece with several flat drawers built on castors that is in my study at the church and decided to take it over to her. She was delighted to have it and it is perfect for what she needed. I visited with my folks and had lunch. They are 85 and 89 now and they live about an hour away in a tidy apartment just right for the two of them.
I drove home quietly through snow-covered fields and snow-dusted forests remembering my childhood and the efforts my mother and her sister made to create a room for me that would make me feel loved, cherished, and secure.
Back at my office I put the things I had stored in the drawers in boxes for storage. The little dresser from my boyhood, that was in the family when mom was a little girl, was sitting against the wall in my study.
I concluded that the time has come to move the little dresser along and let someone else enjoy it. I moved it out of my study. These days I am trying to make do with less things (except bikes) and simplifying my life when I can.
But I will always have room in my heart for memories like the memory of two young sisters, one great with child, plotting together to take the simple things they had on hand and create a tidy space for a boy that he could call his own.
Someday soon I have to tell you where the dresser came from. It’s a bittersweet story of God’s grace.
I hope you have people like mom and aunt Sue in your life. Even if you didn’t you can always find a little child somewhere and treat them like they treated me.
Bittersweet Farm | January 16, 2024
Mom on the left and Sue Opfer on the right. They look like they are in Narnia, but it was taken at Taylor and Lydia Pierpont’s wedding at Camp Barakel.