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  • Writer's pictureGary Gruber

Drawer of Dreams

When I was a child, mom and dad would take me to New York to visit my grandparents. They lived in Brooklyn (Bedford-Stuyvesant) and were the last white family on their block. They lived in a third floor walkup apartment, rent controlled from the days after World War II. They paid $45 a month.

I used to play with the black children at a park close to my grandfather’s furrier store. While there may have been some uneasiness between adults of the two races, this did not prevail among the children. The innocence of being a child was sacred back then, and the only thing that mattered was having the energy to join whatever fantasies of the imagination the other children were participating in.

I always enjoyed these visits because I was left alone with my grandfather, who would take me through the store and explain what each piece of equipment was for.

He would give me a dollar and I would walk down the street, underneath the subway overpass to a pizza shop where I would purchase a giant slice of pizza and a Coca-Cola for $0.25. Navigating the world alone at 7 or 8 was a wonderful adventure back then.

There was a candy store across the street where my grandfather would take me for ‘candy buttons’. These were thin sheets of white paper about 2 1/2 inches wide and a foot long with little colored dots of candy that you would peel off and eat.

The real joy however was when I was permitted to go into the furthermost heart of the back office. My grandfather had two drawers full of odds and ends from his work and small repair jobs. Everything was done by hand in the creation of fur coats back then. I was amazed by the little screws and hooks and thingamabobs that dwelled in that top drawer.

He would let me choose one thing to take with me each visit. Even now, over 65 years later, my memories of his shop are quite vivid. When I started doing my own mechanical work (back in the mid 70’s) -- repairs of things like washing machines and garage door openers and touch up painting and wood construction and plumbing for my darkroom, I built my own tool shed in our garage where I could store everything that I needed to work in the medium that I chose that day.

I became adept with my hands and soon I was running pipe and faucets to plumb my first darkroom; while out in the garage I was building or rebuilding car engines -- sometimes painting my motorcycle. During all of these labors, one would accumulate hooks and steel angles and screws and thingamabobs that were left over from each project. I purchased a desk with multiple drawers from Sears and assembled it in the garage. The drawers quickly filled up, each with their own assigned tools or fixtures particular to the individual task at hand.

I did save one drawer for odds and ends that didn't appear to belong in any of the others. And whether it was conscious or unconscious, I soon created a monument to my grandfather -- my own drawer full of fauna and flora that had plenty of purpose and meaning to me, but when viewed as a whole were far more significant -- because they reminded me of the gift my grandfather passed down to me through his own hands and handiwork.

Perhaps someday our daughter we'll rummage through that drawer and have a small inkling of its significance and meaning.

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Mar 02, 2023

Beautifully written! I'm happy to see you're back writing.

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