It’s not a particularly stylish desk. It’s not even that big. It’s made of wood and scratches and dents scar the surface. A certain girl, as a teen, carved “true love rules” into the surface of the desk.
There is a clue, though, to a significant history. If you were to open the top left drawer, you’d see a note taped to the worn wood on the inside of the drawer. Written in blue ink, in a handwritten script from another time, is:
Days We Close the Restaurant for the Year
4th of July — One Day
New Year’s Day
Jackson’s Restaurant sat on the outside edge of Holly Hill, South Carolina, and it was operated by my grandmother, Janie Jackson. The accountant for the restaurant was Elbert Jackson, my great-uncle and former owner of this desk.
If you go through Holly Hill now, you may pass the old restaurant. But it has changed hands and operates under a different name. In fact, it’s changed hands more than once as running a restaurant in that area isn’t easy. Holly Hill is a small country town, after all, and it’s hard to compete against well known names like Sweatman’s BBQ.
My mother worked at Jackson’s Restaurant as a waitress. When I was a little baby, I was placed in a box beside the stove. The kitchen workers and other staff kept an eye on me while my mother waited on customers. (This was in 1985. Social Services and DHEC would have fits if someone tried that today.)
In 1989, when Hurricane Hugo blew through, my family took shelter at the restaurant. I remember my parents, with my grandparents, sitting up to watch the storm. I also remember waking up at one point to see part of a roof roll by. The restaurant withstood the storm’s onslaught, luckily.
I also remember seeing my Uncle Elbert working on the accounts in his bedroom, at this worn desk. Uncle Elbert suffered from polio as a child and it crippled him. Shame on his part, combined with the stigma against invalids that pervaded the South at the time, turned him into a recluse. But he was good with numbers, so helped my grandmother by keeping books.
A Legacy Left Behind
When Uncle Elbert was put into a nursing home and we moved in with my grandmother, I took over Uncle Elbert’s room and inherited the desk. When I went to clean it out, I found all the old checks and ledgers. I asked my father what I should do with it all and he told me to throw it out. The restaurant had closed long ago; there was no need for any of this stuff.
I kept the note in the drawer, however. I’m not sure why. I think I liked the mark of history. It also felt as if it belonged there, that removing the note would harm the desk in a spiritual manner.
My grandmother, Janie, died in 2006 and my Uncle Elbert a year after that. My grandfather, Janie’s husband, had passed away years and years before.
I thought of all this as I did some of the account upkeep for my own writing business. It’s nothing fancy: just an envelope for receipts and invoices and an Excel workbook for the calculations. At one point, I opened that drawer for some reason and saw that note.
A sudden kinship with my great-uncle fell over me. While I don’t run anything as complicated as a restaurant, and my books are nothing compared to what I found in that desk all those years ago, I use my small skills to reach out to the world. Uncle Elbert did the same.
We follow the legacy of those who went before us, even if we don’t know it. I sometimes wonder if we carry memories in our genes. My grandmother started her own business and herd I am doing the same. My great-uncle did the bookkeeping and, by necessity, I am doing the same. And with the same desk. Perhaps the memories aren’t in my genes but ingrained into the wood.
Either, feeling close to those who went before is a cherished feeling. May we all follow a good legacy and may we leave one behind.
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Also published on Medium.