What’s Behind the Door: A Story

It began around 1816, with a generous wedding gift.

A young woman began her new life with the man of her dreams. Her mother gave the new couple a quilt for their wedding day, but her father wanted to do something more. A master woodworker, he retreated to his shop every day for a solid week, and soon emerged with a gift.

It was a bed. A beautiful, majestic, hard-carved masterpiece. The headboard was heavy in the way that only solid, study wood can be. The newlyweds fell in love with the bed at first sight, and after enlisting the help of three burly men, they managed to get it into place.

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That bed stood in the corner of their bedroom for the rest of their lives. It was where the three boys were born. It was where the husband, their father, passed away after a long illness. It was the final piece of furniture that their mother parted with before she moved in with her sister in her last years. “That bed has to stay in the family,” she said to her youngest son, and he assured her that it would.

Two days later, the bed was in his own home. It replaced the simple, serviceable headboard that had never really mattered to him or his wife. The first night they slept in the bed, his wife said it felt like the headboard was watching over them.

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She also expressed some concern — only half-joking — that if that heavy piece of wood fell on them, they might die in their sleep.

The years passed, and that headboard took on the dark, handsome patina of age. It stood strong through the many changes that befell the family. It became the place where the children gathered during the darkest days of a Civil War that raged outside, where the sounds of musket fire and the cries of men sounded through the night. It was where a husband and wife whispered their secrets. It was a refuge for the grandchildren.

The bed was passed down again years later, and a few years after that it was almost destroyed by a fire that swept the old house. The fine wood was charred and marked, but still just as sturdy as it had ever been.

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During a move in the 1950s, the headboard was dropped from the back of the big moving truck. The impact shook the ground. The bed developed a crack along the side, and suddenly it wasn’t sturdy enough to hold up a mattress anymore.

The headboard went into storage, but it remained a part of the family. It was passed down again…this time, to me.

My father looked over the old bed and said, “You know…this can’t be used for a bed ever again. It sure is a shame that the wood will go to waste.”

I thought about the man who had made it almost 200 years ago.

I touched the fine carvings, the ones that had been painstakingly put there with rudimentary tools.

And I knew what to do.

“It won’t go to waste,” I vowed, running my hands over the smooth finish.

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Today, there is a fine home on the outskirts of town. That home has a most unusual feature: A very wide and very heavy door, like one you might expect to find on a much grander home than this. It takes two hands to swing it open on heavy hinges. It is obviously hand-carved and well-loved, with the fine patina of age.

It is the keeper of our history, carved from love and time and experience. And one day, it will be passed down again, to take a new place in the long history of this family.

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