The little cabinet stands on top of a dresser in my spare bedroom. Of heavy oak construction, it has six drawers, each only five inches wide but 18 inches deep. The front of each drawer has a curved metal pull attached to a small frame designed to display a label. The drawers glide open with ease and I hunt among the costume jewelry for the Celtic brooch with the green stone that matches my sweater. Ah, there it is, amid the jumble of inexpensive pins and pendants scattered in the bottom drawer.
I can almost hear a heavy sigh coming from the oak drawer. “So this is what I have been reduced to. Just a place to deposit a clutter of pretty trinkets.”
Like its owner, the little cabinet is retired now from its active life. A faded label on one drawer gives a hint of its former occupation. It reads, “Juvenile Fiction, A-J”. Once upon a time, it sat in the busy children’s room of a public library. Its drawers slammed open and shut all day long as children and their parents searched the cards to see if the library owned the newest story by Beverly Cleary or Roald Dahl’s delightful title, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Once upon a time, crisply typed cards were filed in the drawers every day as new titles were added to the growing collection.
Back in the 1950s, the cabinet came to furnish the brand-new sunny library building in Franklin Square. The community was growing and its storefront library no longer met its needs. The little cabinet was proud to show off its contents to the young families filling the neighborhood. But time went by and change came again.
Developments in computer technology had made the library card catalog obsolete. Now shiny new machines that allowed users to access materials online were being set up alongside the oak card catalogs. The little cabinet was given a reprieve of about a year while folks got used for the new computerized catalogs, but soon it got the message. “You’re a relic. We need the space. You have to go.”
And so the library emptied the cards from the drawers and offered all the cabinets for sale. A local hardware dealer bought one of the big adult catalogs. “Perfect to hold all the screws and small parts” he said as he lugged it away. A craft enthusiast did the same, and soon all the cabinets that had given such good service for 50 years were gone. In a burst of nostalgia, I bought the little cabinet from the children’s room and took it home with me. “Just the thing for all that inexpensive jewelry I like.”
Now I am also retired from the busy years I spent working at the library, but enjoying the new challenges in my life. As I sit in the spare room working at my computer, I feel the little cabinet looking down at me. I get up and gently close the drawer holding the pendants. I pat its strong oak sides and say: “Now how would I ever find that crystal necklace if you weren’t here to keep things sorted out? You’re still pretty useful, you know. You just have a new role to play.” And so do I.
Alice Clegg Wolfteich,