One reason I became a lawyer was to have an excuse to get a credenza.
The obsession began when I was young. The Cat in the Hat lost his moss-covered, three-handled family credenza – and though I wasn’t exactly sure what that was, I knew I wanted one. Later, credenzas popped up in stories by Dickens and Poe, two of my favorites, and I came to associate the word with a life of meaning and mystery and drama.
That’s why on the first day of 1987 I made a resolution to have a credenza in my tiny office on Broad Street by year’s end.
And unlike most of the countless other resolutions I have made, this one came true before the clocks changed at Daylight Savings Time.
An Office to Be Proud Of
I was reading the classifieds in the Charleston Evening Post – this was before it merged with the News & Courier – and saw an ad for an office ensemble in Hanahan. There was a desk, chair, bookshelf and even a hutch. Most importantly, there was a credenza.
So on Saturday morning I called my friend Lucas, who was in a rock band and had a Ford van, and off we went to fulfill my dream.
“Wait a minute,” said Lucas, when we got there and saw the roomful of massive mahogany furniture I had just purchased. “You’re getting all of this?”
That’s when I learned it’s not a good idea to recruit a guitarist to help carry heavy objects after a late-night gig at The Windjammer. We dropped the hutch coming down the stairs, and it exploded into pieces. We dinged the desk and lost a wheel on the chair.
But we handled the credenza with loving care and managed to wrestle it into my already-cramped office, where it sat dry-docked against the wall like a magnificent sailing vessel.
Over the coming weeks, I put a globe on top of my shiny new credenza, and a lonely in-box, and some family photographs. But in those days I had few cases, and so the large cabinet space underneath was mostly empty.
My Son, Locked in the Furniture
At the time my son Bo was four. Every afternoon I would walk over to Meeting Street and pick him up from pre-school. Back at the office he would scatter files and break things until it was time to go home.
When he laid eyes on the credenza, he was transfixed. It became a source of bonding between us. He would sit on it with his box of crayons and draw pictures contentedly. He would unscrew the brass knobs and screw them back on. He would crawl inside the cabinet, close the door and call out for me to find him.
On one such occasion, as he was playing hide-and-seek in the credenza, I heard a fateful click as the door slid shut. He had somehow locked himself inside. And I had no key.
“Come find me,” Bo said.
“Here I come.”
I could hear him scrambling around inside.
“Daddy. Come find me.”
I heard footsteps coming up the stairs. That’s when I remembered I had a client appointment at that very moment.
“Ssh,” I said to the locked door. “Let’s play the quiet game.”
Back then, I didn’t have a lobby, waiting room, receptionist or administrative help. All I had was a cramped office and an oversized credenza with a small child trapped inside.
My initial plan was to carry on as if nothing was amiss. But Bo’s muffled cries were too loud to ignore.
And in truth, it was not a real client at all. It was my friend Lucas the rock star, dropping by with yet another traffic ticket, or just to hang out. He did not find it strange at all that Bo was locked in the credenza, and it took him only a few seconds with a letter opener to free my grateful son.
A Credenza is More Than a Credenza
Soon more babies began appearing in my life. I moved my office to East Bay Street, and the credenza went home, where it was painted pink and became a toy chest.
Bo is now a fine young man who lives nearby. He has become a skilled woodworker – for Christmas he made a crate for my vinyl records. I wonder if his time spent inside the credenza helped instill his love of cabinetry.
Not long ago, I was cleaning out the backyard shed and hauling things to Goodwill. Underneath a large pile of life’s discards was the credenza. It’s a bit battered. It has layers of flaking paint.
I cannot say the credenza has made me a better lawyer or person, but it makes me happy to look at it. I can see where I’ve been, and where I am right now and – who knows – if I open the door I might even see where I’m going.
Original post can be found in our January Newsletter