Wednesday 18 July 2007

The Critter

Edited to add that this entry has been entered into the Artsy Essay contest. Thank you Random for letting me know, and thank you Judith for a great idea! :-)

Judith Heart Song Artsy Essay Contest
What is your favorite and most inspiring possession? Tell us about it, and if you want an extra creative challenge... tell us about it without naming it until the very last sentence of your essay:):):)

Fifteen years ago I found myself in a ramshackle repair shop on the edge of town. My mom's clothes drier needed a new fan belt and we'd been told this shop was our best bet. The "shop" was an old barn that was crammed full of broken electric appliances and greasy parts on rickety hand-made shelves. While I waited to be served I noticed something odd huddled in a corner. A strange and very grubby piece of.. furniture? Or was it a wooden box? No, not a box as it had legs. What on earth was it?

The man behind the counter noticed my stare and called out "You can have the filing cabinet for R20 (about £1.50) if you want it."

And that's how I ended up returning home with "the critter".

The Critter was the ugliest piece of furniture I have ever seen as well as the most bizarre. It's whole charm lay in that combination. Basically it was made of up of three separate portions. The "body" was a large wooden drawer rather like a huge wooden shoe box in shape. It had a little black handle in the centre that looked just like a bulbous nose. This box fitted onto a frame with long wooden legs and an extra shoe-box type "lid" fitted on top. Put together it stood about hip height and looked just like some strange fantasy animal from Alice's looking glass world.

While cleaning it up my mom and I discovered that it was made of solid oak and cleaned up to a very lovely mellow sheen. We also found, wedged at the back of the drawer, five ancient business cards. They were very aged, but the name and address was still legible. It was a law firm in our home town. My mom checked, but the firm no longer existed. However she did find that the name of the solicitor on the card was still in the phone book so she gave him a call out of curiosity.

He was stunned. Even though he was now in his nineties he remembered the Critter well. He'd been 18 when he joined the firm, got those business cards and bought the Critter. The reason why it had a separate top and legs was that it was a radical new idea in office furniture. You could buy extra modules and drawers to increase it's size over time. As it turned out he never bought any more drawers for the Critter and when he eventually had his office renovated he sold it and bought a nice new steel cabinet with four drawers. He asked us if we'd let him have the business cards, which we did.

Now that I knew the Critter's past it started to seem even more charming. For all it's ugliness it was to be a very handy piece of furniture. When I was at college it held all my papers and documents beautifully filed away in it's innards. Later when I started sewing for myself it held every single pattern in two perfectly filed rows and my sewing machine fitted just perfectly on top. Then, when I got my computer the top was where I had my first bulky dot matrix printer and later still it held my scanner and served as storage for all my computer related bits and bobs. That one huge drawer was always just the right size for whatever I wanted to store and the sturdy frame meant it could carry weights other lesser furniture couldn't cope with. Added to that the long tall legs meant that all sorts could be stored beneath it from boxes and books to waste paper bins and printer paper trays. For fifteen years it wedged itself neatly into any odd corner or empty spot and it was always useful.

So why the past tense? Sadly I had to let the critter go when I married and moved to the UK. The price of sending my stuff was too high to justify keeping the Critter and so I had to put it up for sale. The first couple who came to view were very enthusiastic and so was I until they started to say how it was a bit bigger than what they needed, but once they'd cut the legs down and got rid of the false top it would be perfect. WHAT?? Hand the Critter over to butchers? NEVER!! I told them I was very sorry, but I couldn't sell it to them and they left looking very confused.

The second person looked untrustworthy and admitted he was after "something for the stuff in the garage" so he left disappointed as well. Finally I struck gold with the third man. A wispy birdlike man who ran a local antique store. He ran his hands over the Critter like a horse breeder admiring a thoroughbred and spoke in soft tones about "craftsmanship". He knew about the removable top with it's little ball and groove clips and he even knew the name of the manufacturers. After a brief negotiation I waved goodbye to the Critter lovingly wrapped up in an old blanket on the back of his trailer. It was a sad moment, but at least I know it went to a good home.


  1. Hey you should submit this post to this competition at
    Check it out - because the theme is 'your favorite possession.

  2. WONDERFUL story and it has a blissful ending even though it's a bit sad he he he...

    LOVE IT with all my heart!

  3. Thanks Random! I'll do that. :-)

    Glad you enjoyed the story. :-)

  4. lol interesting story.. I never knew a guy can admire a piece of ugly furniture so... i guess its about the aura than the appearance...

  5. Lovely story Michelle! least itwent to a good home! :)

  6. I would have been just as protective. I totally understand.

    By the way, I awarded you with the "Creative Blogger Award". Congrats!!

  7. that's such a nice story. When I read it, I thought to myself...I would bring it home too. I have an affection for such outcasts and find beauty in their oddity. Wonderful story!

  8. HollyGl

    Wow. :-) Thank you!

    Yep, it's a bit like taking home a lost puppy. ;-)

  9. oh what a wonderful and evocative post... I now love the critter too. It is interesting the way things come in and out of our lives... some to stay and some to visit. Almost five years ago all my possessions went away, but that has now made room for new ones. Thanks for sharing this post and the critter.

    my very best,


  10. GOOD LUCK with the contest, M!!!

  11. What a desciptive and worthwhile post. I absolutely enjoyed the trip down memory lane and could nearly envision the Critter by the end. Good luck!

  12. Thank you Judi. :-)

    And thank you Amel and Tammy

  13. this was lovely michelle... i too have had some special pieces of furniture that eventually for one reason or another ended up gracing someone else's room,, but it is with satifaction for ever having possession of them,, that i love them the most.....

  14. Hi Paisley

    I like the way you put that, about the satisfaction of having possessed them. There have been some other deeply personal items I've left behind, or had to pass on, one way or another. It helps to think of them not so much as things I've "lost", but rather as things I was priveledged to enjoy for a time.

    Thanks. :-)

  15. Michelle
    This was beautifully written. I really enjoyed reading your essay. Good luck in the contest!

  16. Ohhhhh, after reading this I wish you had a picture of the Critter. This is so well written.

  17. Thanks Charles!

    Yeah, I'm kind of sorry I have no photos of the Critter.

  18. Sounds like a piece of "history" that I would not have been able to part with. One of my sisters/brothers would have to have held on to it for me...some time in the future! lol. i too would love to see a picture of it.

  19. this post is absolutely perfect for Judith's prize!!

  20. What a wonderful story... and I'm glad that the 'Critter' found a good home with someone who will appreciate it!

  21. Alphawoman
    Thanks. :-) I think I must go through my photos and see if there's a bit of critter in any of them. Problem is we never think to take photos of mundane things, like the inside of our house/office ets.

    Kelly and Astaryth
    Thank you! :-) :-)

  22. My husband worked for several years building custom oak cabnitry, computer desks and such. Gives me an appreciation for your critter! Lovely story.

  23. Hi Barbara

    What a lovely job, making oak furniture. I love wood, but my only "working" has been a few shelves and a bit of wood carving I did eons ago as a student.

    There's something so "alive" about wood. Then you add a craftsman's touch and it's no wonder some furniture ends up having "soul". :-)



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