By Mona Jean Harley
Snow Day! I would say unexpected, yet I was up until midnight goofing around with my son who is still home from college on winter break, pretending there would be a snow day today whether or not the dream would become reality in six short hours. Now snowed in, I pulled out my semi-forgotten lap desk from the back of a closet, wiped off some cobwebs, and nestled in front of a crackling fire with a warm cup of green tea, laptop on the lap desk. The lap desk was Dad’s Christmas gift to me years ago when I was a teenager. It is very large, made of plywood about 3 ft. long and 2 ft. wide, with a curved cut-out in the middle to snug up against my body. Dad secretly made 3 of these one year at Christmastime, one for me and each of my siblings, in Bernard Simmon’s workshop, the old neighbor across our country road. Dad had a similar lap desk that he would spread across the arms of his favorite Lazy Boy chair, grading exams or scoring psychological testing. My brother, my sister and I coveted and fought (in a peaceful kind of way) over Dad’s lap desk, so that we could nestle comfortably into the red corduroy of that Lazy Boy chair to do our homework. It almost felt like paradise–had it not been homework I was doing–to sit in the comfort of that chair while having plenty of space on the board that had been transformed into a desk, to take notes or write out and sort index cards for those first research papers from long ago, on vegetarianism and Broadway.
Using the lap desk has brought back vivid memories of Dad’s death and a move, where I nearly left behind my lap desk. I don’t have a clear memory of actually receiving the lap desk that Christmas years ago. I have a vague memory of feeling surprised and excited when Dad brought the boards into the house from the garage, as we were gathered in the family room by the Christmas tree. It’s just not a crisp image. In contrast, I do have a vivid image of seeing this board another time, and not seeing my dad, and realizing I would never see him again. It’s easy for me to calculate the date, July 28, 1990, eleven days after he unexpectedly died at age 55. My husband and I had just bought our first house and we were preparing to move. Instead of packing our apartment, I had stayed behind in Indiana with my mom and siblings while my husband drove back to Wisconsin to pack the apartment. I returned to Madison the night before we moved. Moving day I was a zombie; I carried out box after box of items I hadn’t packed, and most of them my husband hadn’t packed either. He found that he also felt like a zombie when he was supposed to be packing, so a friend did much of the boxing up of items. On moving day when the apartment was emptied, I took one last sweep through to see if anything was missed. I walked into our empty bedroom, peered into the vacant closet, then peeked behind the bedroom door. The homemade lap desk. The lone item in the room. In that instant, it felt like this handmade treasure was all that remained of my dad. It was a poignant and heartbreaking moment, and I once again was moved to uncontrollable sobbing. This lap desk was a touchstone for my fresh, raw grief.
Working at my lap desk again, almost 30 years later, led to memories, thoughts, feelings, gratitude and connection. Today when I saw this lap desk in the back of the closet, I experienced a much more mundane and emotionless thought, something like, “Oh good, I thought this is where the lap desk was, and here it is!” One of my many gratitudes in life is how the simple and sometimes the mundane can bring such connection, and how objects, thoughts, images, feelings, senses, and experiences can be so connecting. They are grounding. They punctuate life.
Connection. Noticing, experiencing and finding connection through thoughts, experiences, people, relationships, nature, travels, objects and relics. I receive such deep joy and appreciation from connection. So this morning when I had unexpected time in a quiet house, it was a great opportunity for me to pause and write. I thought perhaps I would write about some of the thoughts and experiences that have been circulating in my head for awhile. Instead, I was present to the moment, the Snow Day, the lap desk I was using. One thought led to another, to a story I didn’t even know was there, to a story I didn’t even know I needed to tell. So on this wintry day as I sit by the warm fire with my now cool green tea, I felt even more connection after writing for an hour at my lap desk. I am connected to this homemade lapdesk, to memories of my old neighbor Bernard Simmons, to myself and my siblings as kids, to the house that I grew up in, to the first apartment and first house that my husband and I shared in Madison, to my dad, and to grief, healing and memories that have been and are transformative, into love that is ever-present.
© 2019 Mona Jean Harley
Mona Jean Harley was delighted to stumble across the “First Monday First Person” writing group in Madison Wisconsin in the fall of 2018, which has been a perfect space to become more fully inspired in writing and in paying attention to life. “Snow Day!” was her first story written for and read to the talented writers in this group.