Labor of Love

A couple of months after my grandmother’s funeral, mom gave each of us “kids” a surprising gift… some money from Grandma’s “estate.” Mom’s only request was that we try to use it (or at least a good part of it) for something that would be a keepsake.

You would never believe me if I told you how much anxiety this caused me.

For real.

I was close to Grandma… as the oldest grandchild, the one among my siblings who lived closest for the longest, the one who wrote letters back and forth for years (and years), the one who loved hand-crafting like she did. I felt strongly that I wanted to spend the money in a way that would honor her, that would be not just a keepsake but a tribute.

After much (!!) consternation, tears, brainstorming, I finally decided what I wanted… a prayer kneeler. She never had one herself but she was a pray-er. The last time I saw her, in fact, she said she hoped when she was gone people would remember that that’s what she was. She believed no matter how far apart we were separated geographically, we were all connected in a “web of prayer,” and she believed in being an on-your-knees pray-er especially for those most serious concerns.

The trouble is, a prayer kneeler isn’t the kind of thing you can just run out and pick up. And once I knew I wanted one, I didn’t want to sit around waiting for who-knows-how long. I started researching online, finding everything from inexpensive (boring) woodshop-made ones, to hundreds-of-dollars antiques (that cost more hundreds to ship). Finally we went out one Saturday morning just on the off chance that one of San Antonio’s antique shops *might* have one.

We found 5 in the first 2 hours. And yes, I came home with one of them.

It wasn’t what I’d imagined (how I wish I’d bought one years ago in England, when we visited a church antiques warehouse every few months just for fun!) but the price was right and in the antique store it looked pretty good.

Then I got it home.

And it didn’t look so good anymore. C’mon in, Buyer’s Remorse. Bad paint job, wonky nails, dried-on crud. (I’m ashamed to admit I planned to take a photo of it but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it, I was that bummed about it.) So it has been sitting in the garage since summer, waiting for me to decide the next step. Spend a bunch of money (probably more than the price of the thing itself) to have it professionally refinished? Probably the right choice–but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it.

Frankly, it doesn’t seem very Grandma-like. They weren’t “pay a ton of money for something” people. They were “do it yourself and do a good job” people.

Plus, it doesn’t seem very prayer-like to me to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on what amounts to a religious display piece, when real people are hungry for want of a few coins.

So I’m doing it myself. Starting today, armed with a slew of chemicals and scrapers and sanders and pretty much just keeping my fingers crossed.

I didn’t take a “before” picture, but here’s how it looked today when I remembered I should snap something to remind me where I started. (This is after I removed the cushions from the top and the bottom. They’re currently covered with yellow velvet-like stuff… which will be replaced.)

The antique store guy told me it had been refinished, and that they’d tried to strip it but the wood had absorbed some finish so they just painted it all. Now that I’ve spent 90 minutes and 1/2 a can of stripper trying to remove LAYERS of paint from one little section, I’m thinking maybe he was……… *cough* mistaken. Still, a bit of happy news: there IS wood under there! See it?? And it even looks like I might be able to get to it… eventually.
And then there’s that golden cross. I’ve been trying to imagine what kind of refinishing I might want to do on this. After spying that tiny bit of real wood, and getting a look at the white under the gold, I’m now considering trying to get the main body of the kneeler somewhat natural and woody, and leave the cross itself a distressed cream, maybe even with little bits of the gold left on the edges and corners?

At this rate I have no idea how long this project is going to take (but clearly I need to find a more effective route that paint stripper and a scraper to get all the layers off). It’ll be a labor of love, I guess.

Just like Grandma’s prayers.

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