“Look what he’s done.” My grandmother—Greggie—tried to sound annoyed, but her tone came across as affectionate because Papa hadn’t actually done anything wrong. We stood in their bright, airy bedroom discussing the maple furniture with its black and gold accents—I liked the intricate stenciled hearts. Greggie brushed her arthritic fingers over the corner of Papa’s dresser-top where the stenciling had worn away.

“He rests his hand here every day while he picks out his socks!” she said, laughing. “He’s rubbed off the paint!”

Papa shrugged and gave me a wink.

At thirteen, I had no concept of time outside the present and couldn’t imagine the dresser-top any other way. In my moment as an insider to their joke, I couldn’t imagine us any other way.


Forty years later, my parents have that same Hitchcock dresser in their guest room, and now Mom gazes at me through wire-rimmed glasses and asks, “Do you want it?” She holds a pen over her list of things to give away so she and my father can downsize into a retirement community.

I don’t answer immediately because I’m trying to figure out how so many years could have passed. I feel myself shifting up in line, one notch closer to being the grandparent, one notch closer to being the one remembered instead of the one remembering.

“Yes,” I finally say. “I’ll take it.”

I look at the place where little painted hearts fade into the golden maple—where the act of living is so visibly a process of wearing. I place my hand on the spot and hold the pose for just a moment, long enough to bring Papa back to me, long enough to recognize with surprise how one crooked finger turns toward the wood.

Deb Werrlein’s work has appeared in Creative NonfictionLiterary Hub, Mount Hope, and others. Her story “Concatenate” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and was excerpted from her unpublished memoir about academic life, Professor Never. Deb works as a freelance writer and editor in Northern Virginia where she is completing a memoir in essays about the year when she was nine. You can find her on Twitter @debwerrlein.

Photo by Dinty W. Moore