July 08, 2009

My Tangled Bank

My desk. My tangled bank.

When I was small, I loved to visit my great aunt who lived in South Bend, Indiana. The Bader Avenue house was designed and built for her by her husband. It boasted many nooks and crannies that I adored - a rooftop landing off her bedroom, a cozy sunroom that was perfect for reading, a functioning dumbwaiter (large enough for a child to crawl into and ride between the floors), and a basement filled with old treasures. To me, the most magical of the things that had "gone to live below" was a Victorian pump organ. I used to sit at it, peddling away my aunt's requests one after another. When she passed on, the wheezing, wonderful beast was left to me.

Over the years, I dragged the thing nearly everywhere I lived, and along the way the bellows crumbled and its voice fell into disrepair. Not having the means to fix it, but knowing how much I still loved it, my husband gently dismantled the keyboard, stops and other mechanisms and replaced them with a writing surface. If I couldn't create music with it, I could at least craft stories while nestled in its gothic embrace.

The organ now sits in my studio in the rooftop of our barn, transformed into a writing desk. It has become a bit of a cabinet of wonders, adorned with stones collected from the beach, tea cups and fountain pens, an old brownie camera, a bunch of dried lavender from the garden, a hummingbird skeleton, my mother's favourite dancing shoes. I sit there day after day, putting pen to paper, mixing memories with imagination, willing stories to form. It is my tangled bank.

"It is interesting to contemplate a tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth, and to reflect that these elaborately constructed forms, so different from each other, and dependent upon each other in so complex a manner, have all been produced by laws acting around us." - from Darwin's On the Origin of Species


mapelba said...

If I live forever, I will never, NEVER, forget that pump organ. It gave me some of the biggest bruises of my life.

I'm glad it has found a peaceful place to carry on.

Ami said...

You are a wonderful friend! That move to Chicago (in August no less) and getting that thing up three flights of stairs was insane. I don't plan on moving her again any time soon!

Swiss said...

How beautiful, thanks for sharing.

kath said...

He sounds like a keeper..
So does the desk! beautiful!

kath said...


What books are piled there? When a favorite writer shows a stack of books, identification is imperative.

pretty please?? :)

Ami said...

the book on the top of the pile is "Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898" by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace. It's a huge beast of a book and it's been my bible while writing this next novel.

The next book is a reproduction of anatomical illustrations from the 1860's.

the third book is probably "A Pickpocket's Tale" by Timothy J. Gilfoyle. (I bought this book from the shop at the Lower Eastside Tenement Museum. Love that place!)

The bottom two books are my Roget's Thesaurus and my American Heritage Dictionary. (the dictionary belonged to my grandfather.)

Cheryl Arkison said...

Wonderful story, but I need to comment on your wall colour! I'm in love, sigh.

~grits~ said...

Incredible memory story and pic of the reformation of such a grand piece!!

Melvin said...

great story... thanks
I really enjoyed...

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Victoria Neblik said...

The botanical illustration there is lovely- is that from an early edition of On the Origin of Species?