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Given out


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It is less than a week before Christmas and I am in my dining room assembling a toy kitchen set for Santa Claus. I have no roaring fire and my wife is in the other room; children are asleep. I look up from my work, earbuds in my ears belting non-holiday songs, to see my reflection in a mirror that was set in an antique upright piano that I rescued from an old home in west Durham almost exactly one year ago. The defunct Victorian creature has never played a note for me or the man who put it on his back porch for anyone who could cart it off. All the keys are stuck and the insides are decayed, but it is a beautiful piece of furniture.

Our artifact is dressed in a mix of Christmas kitsch, holiday cards and perennial family pictures. As I take a break, my attention pans across the souvenir bourbon bottle from a dear friend's wedding in Kentucky, the face of a grandfather who fought in World War II, my wife as a toddler in an Easter Dress circa 1980 and the two dozen seasonal greetings that have arrived over the last 10 days. These Christmas cards almost all have pictures. I recognize the faces as a Cliffs Notes version of how my wife and I joined both our birth certificates and address books into a serendipitous group of beautiful and smiling faces. Yes, these are people who may have sent out a mass-mailing of photos, but we were included because they want their picture up in our house. We have sent ours to them and I am confident that proof of our caring is hanging out somewhere in their domicile. We are proud to know these people, even if our communication looks more like a collection of baseball cards than a box of letters.

Putting the Phillips-head screwdriver down, I move the keepsakes aside to grip an ornate board that was designed to hold sheet music. It has curved edges from the vegetative motif and deep, dusty grooves worn well into mixed degrees of blond, brown and red. This board is laid gingerly aside to reveal a compartment where someone has written a careful dedication over a century ago. It was penciled on Dec. 17, 1905, and given from a Jeff to a Miss Emma. They shared the same last name. Perhaps they were family? I like to imagine them singing Christmas carols around it on the day it was delivered with their kin and neighbors next to them.

I think again about things that I could put into the compartment (jewelry, money, matches?), and then put the handmade wooden piece back onto its ledge. The cards and snapshots are reshuffled back into place. I am glad that this large, broken and dusty furnishing came into our possession. It may not fill the house with music, but I appreciate the job it is doing for us. The bright red particle board pieces for my kids' make-believe pantry need to be put together; I get back to work.


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