One Man’s Trash

Karin Fuller Patton
3 min readJul 8, 2021

Don seldom calls when I’m at work, but he was simply too excited to wait.

“I just got you something,” he said. “I went out for a walk and there it was.”

“Another squirrel?” I asked. Because, y’know, one is never enough.

“Nothing living,” Don said quickly. “It’s an old cedar chest someone put out with their trash. It might be too bad for you to fix, but if it is, I figured you could use the parts for something else.”

Some men bring flowers or candy, but my guy knows how to woo this weird woman — with a piece of furniture so far gone its previous owners believed it belonged at the curb.

This, they did with good reason.

The chest’s top corners had been severely gnawed and there were deep gouges in both the front and top, as though the destructive dog with anger issues grew tired of chewing and opted to use its claws for a while.

One of the chest’s front legs was missing and the others were damaged. The lid hinges were broken. And inside the big box were remnants suggesting it once housed an insect collection.

So, upon seeing the chest that first time, my initial instinct was to look for the lighter fluid.

Then I considered the insanely high cost of lumber these days and decided to disassemble it and save the wood.

But as I stood in front of that once glorious chest, armed with rubber mallet and pry bar, I couldn’t make myself take that first whack. Not without at least a half-hearted attempt to save it. The poor old thing had survived all those years and a vicious dog mauling, before becoming the roach version of the elephant graveyard of lore. Didn’t it deserve a bit of sanding and some experimental repairs?

I dove in, removing parts of the sides to fix the front, removing the feet to fix the sides, saving the chips and saw dust to mix with wood glue to make color-matched filler. I was cannibalizing the chest to fix the chest, the whole time expecting to reach a point where my efforts clearly weren’t working. I could then break it apart without feeling wasteful or disrespectful or whatever it was that kept me from being able to go there just yet.

But that never happened.

Although the chest still needs new feet, I’m excited about how this project is turning out. While I’m not sure it would actually rank as the worst piece I’ve brought back, it’s only because there are so many other contenders. There was a washstand purchased out of a chicken shed — not because I wanted or needed a washstand, but because it hurt to see it being used as a nesting box for unappreciative hens. And then there was a dresser wearing so many coats of paint I could barely open the drawers. An ornate rocking chair painted high gloss black, and beneath that, high gloss pink.

And quite a few more.

I don’t know what it is about these seemingly hopeless projects that draws me, but every time I go there, I find myself wonderfully lost in the sanding. Lost in the details. Having to use a metal pick to chip out paint that doesn’t belong. Working through a mountain of sandpaper. Fighting out stripped screws.

Give me your rotting boards, your missing parts, your peeling veneer. Your one-gasp-from-the-dumpster projects.

If money wasn’t a consideration and I could walk into the finest antique store in town and purchase whatever struck my fancy, I would be cheated of this joy; would miss out on experiencing this near giddy pride in something I’ve done.

We live in such a throw-away society. When something breaks, we seldom try to repair it, whether it be a television, a misbehaving pet, a piece of furniture. A relationship.

Rather than invest the time and effort, it’s easier to go out and get something new.

And drag the old out to the curb.

Where some wonderful man, who doesn’t mind a few odd looks from his neighbors, just might drag it back home.



Karin Fuller Patton

Karin Fuller Patton is a newspaper columnist and short fiction writer who resides in Hinton, WV.