The Runaway Train and the Armoire

Now, one of the jobs I gave to the Irishman, along with all the trim in my house, was to spruce up the inside of that red armoire (that’s now white). My grandmother picked it up for 10 bucks back in the 60’s. The drawers were missing and the fronts were just nailed on. My grandfather painted it (twice) and fitted it with some rudimentary shelves. But while we were at it working on my house, why not put in good, sturdy, adjustable shelves? Then my mom can put her teacher stuff inside it. And when she retires, it’ll look good enough to go back to holding tchotchkes. Here it is, along with my not yet married parents, 30 years ago.

Mom and Dad with red armoire

I told him that my mom wanted it done by the end of the month. Lots of relatives are coming to visit in August and my mom wants her teacher stuff inside it by then. He took me at my word and had it done in about 3 days. And while he was finishing up, he called me. A lot.

“I tell ya, there was a lotta work in it,” he told me over the phone. The sides were crooked and he had to square them up for the adjustable shelving I asked for. Whoops! I would have just had him install fixed shelves had I known. But it’s done now and done well. The inside is all cabinet grade plywood and the shelves have solid poplar nosings.

And then he decided to build drawers out of scraps. The bottoms are the thin particle board that I bought to protect my living room floors.

I felt pretty good about all of this… until I counted up the time he spent on it. Because one of the next things for me to do was to tell my mom what this job was going to cost her. I decided to put it off. I’d pay him myself and hold off until she could see how good it looked. Maybe that way she wouldn’t be too upset, right?

But it grated at me for the rest of that day, so I didn’t waste too much time. The next time I saw my mom, I cautiously broached the subject. “Hey Mom, I didn’t get you anything for your birthday. I was thinking I might… subsidize the armoire work for you.”

But when I told her his price, she laughed. Called it the world’s worst investment. And told me that there was no way she’d let me take any kind of a hit from pay for any of it.

I pointed out that a dishwasher will last about 10 years. 20 if the manufacturer screwed up. (Yes, I believe that planned obsolescence is a thing.) So on the bright side, if the armoire costs as much as a dishwasher but lasts 5 or 10 times as long, it’s far from the world’s worst investment. Right?

So I borrowed a big car from some friends and drove through the EZ pass lane with no transponder. Then got to have an awkward conversation with them about the ticket that’s gonna get mailed to their house. Then I opened the tailgate and the shelves fell on my foot and, worse, got dented on the asphalt.

And then it gets better. With all this new plywood added to it, the piece got really heavy. And it didn’t fit up the stairs. So my dad partially dismantled it (and damaged the paint) and then did this epic job wrapping up the banister.


And this even better job with the ceiling light upstairs.


And at long last, here it is in its new, (temporary?) not-quite-finished, chipped-up state.



12 thoughts on “The Runaway Train and the Armoire

  1. Mary Elizabeth

    Well, it is a wonderful place to store “teacher stuff,” which does tend to add up. It looks now as though it belongs in your parents’ house, too. But in addition to the teacher stuff, I think it should include a small loose-leaf notebook detailing its history (provenance) and featuring plastic photo sleeves with copies of the different photos taken of it (or with it as background) over the years. Also, put in a copy of the bill for the repairs and adjustments. 🙂


      1. Mary Elizabeth

        Oh, I’m not that good. But recently I had a place in my kitchen that needed something, and I was researching sixties wall art. I ended up finding something else for the spot, but I did love those giant wooden-look spoon and fork sets!


  2. CindyH

    sounds like an episode of The Lucy Show – I think that the amount paid for the work on the armoire came close to what I paid for the highboy in your mom’s bedroom 😉



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