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My grandmother's dresser

Saturday, January 12, 2008



When I was a little boy, my mother committed a horrible crime against humanity. She took a beautiful and very old dressing vanity and...painted it pink. In her defense, it was the Sixties, natural wood was out, and bright colors were in. It was a piece of furniture she had grown up with, made of solid black walnut with white marble slabs for a top and walnut burl veneers for accents. When she was redoing my older sister's room in pink and white, it made perfect sense to her to give the old dark dresser a makeover. Even as a young boy, I knew this was terribly wrong. I vowed to someday restore it to its original luster. When I was in high school, I took a whack at stripping the pink paint from it, but quickly grew discouraged and left it to hibernate in my parents' garage for another 15 years.

After Jenny and I bought our first house on Churchill Road in West Palm Beach in 1990, I hauled it from Michigan to Florida, thinking it would be a beautiful addition to our new home. I set to work on it, using powerful strippers, heat guns, and razor-sharp scrapers, and I managed to get nearly all the paint off. Emphasis on "nearly." The last five percent, mostly deep in the grain or locked into corners and crevices, just would not budge. I grew discouraged once again, slid it into a corner of my garage, threw an old sheet over it, and forgot about it for another seventeen years.

Until this past month.

The sad little vanity had been a furnace-room repository for household junk ever since we arrived in Pennsylvania in 1999. During the Christmas holiday I finally dusted it off and reevaluated it. Enough years had passed that I could now officially declare Mom's pink-paint abomination part of its history. What paint had come off off was meant to come off, and what did not was now a chapter in its long chronicle. My thinking was this: I could demand perfection and never get it done. Or I could settle for something less and actually get to enjoy it -- and chalk up the pink paint that remained as part of the piece’s colorful (sorry) back story. When I showed it to people I could tell them about the fateful day Mom, in a well-intentioned but misguided moment of home-improvement inspiration, whipped out the paintbrush.

So I set out to do the best I could without driving myself insane. I chiseled off as much of the remaining paint as I could, and sanded the entire piece with gusto, working my way from rough to medium to fine and, finally, ultra-fine grades of paper. Then I vacuumed it, wiped it down with a tack cloth and applied four coats of tung oil, buffing between each with steel wool.I found the marble slabs in the garage, still wrapped in the brown mover's paper from nine years earlier.

The piece is now as done as it is going to get, and finally, some forty years after the crime, is back where it belongs: a part of our home. It now resides in our recreation room, and will eventually make its way up to our daughter's bedroom, to carry on into the next generation. Yes, the pink-paint residues continue to annoy me, but I can now laugh about my mother's bonehead improvement project, and say out loud: *Mom! What on earth were you thinking?*

The older I get, the more I seem to cherish the things that came before me. Especially those things that were part of the lives of my forebearers. I'm glad the old vanity is back. I can't think of it without thinking of the woman who brought not only it into her family, but me, too.

posted by John Grogan at 6:02 AM

32 Comments:

Blogger BJDorr said...

Good job on restoring the dresser. It looks great.

Thanks for giving me a clue to when my old bungalow house paint jobs were done. I found evidence the molding were once painted lime green and the kitchen drawers were painted Pepto-Bismol pink.

But it was the 60's.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Suzie said...

Hi, John,

I am a freelance writer & author, based in the UK. I am also a self confessed dog lover and one of Marley's biggest fans.

I would love to write a book on you and your life and how you progressed to being a best-selling author. Would you be willing to participate?

Suzie Harris

6:07 AM  
Blogger Bruna said...

John, queria tanto poder ler tudo o que você escreve, os sites de tradutor online são terríveis!

8:23 AM  
Blogger Bruna said...

John, put your current photos, please!!
I would love to see pictures of the author of the book most beautiful in the world :)))

8:28 AM  
Blogger Valerie said...

Hi John,

Sorry to say this post is not about your beautiful dresser but instead about your beautiful book. I think I might be the only one on the planet who hasn't read it until recently.

As the owner of many dogs over my 50+ years, including a few retrievers, I found your story entertaining, laugh at loud funny and at the very least, sad. But most importantly - honest. I felt your pain when you wrote about all of Marley's antics. I have seen it all firsthand!! Dogs have a way of "getting" to us that for non-dog owners is hard to understand. I want to thank you & Jenny for not giving up. I think in the end it was all worth it, don't you think???

Thank you for writing from the heart. I wish you continued success in everything that comes your way.

Valerie in NJ

12:58 PM  
Blogger Amy said...

Dear John,
I am also from western Michigan, my husband from southwest Detroit. My good friend, Mary, is a graduate of CMU. She is the editor of a small town paper and wrote a very touching article about her trips to Mayo Clinic seeking treatment for her rare blood disease. Her editorial focused on Mingo, her dog, who ate all the mail from Mayo and became upset whenever she packed a suitcase. My little puppy, Bo, wrote her back, at her request, and gave Mingo advice on how to handle this difficult situation. Maybe a letter from Gracie would help Mingo? I've kept specifics out to protect her privacy. If you'd like to talk further, please let me know. Thanks. Amy

6:00 PM  
Blogger Walks With Wolves said...

Hi John,

That is a gorgeous vanity! I painstakingly restore a not-so-comfortable bedroom set once. Not so much restored, but scrubbed years of cat, cigarette smoke, dust, roach droppings, etc. finding a beautiful mahogany wood! I was so proud of it.

A friend was keeping it in a spare room during my brief stay in Louisiana ~ when I returned I found out she gave it to someone in trade for having her home cleaned! I'm sorry to say, I haven't spoken to her since (about 1 1/2 years).

Thank you for sharing your life long endeavor with us!

Peace ~ Out
Teresa McNamara

6:40 PM  
Blogger KATERINA said...

Hi John,

It’s been two years since Benjie, our 10 years old yellow Labrador, has passed away having gone through a painful period suffering from liver cancer

Two days later, on the 10th of February 2006, I had the opening of my artifacts exhibition which I dedicated to Benjie. That was the least I could have done. I find it impossible to think of a moment when he wouldn’t be lying next to me in my workshop, encouraging my creative efforts in his own unique way. Also, as a creative director in the demanding and stressful advertising business, giving Benjie a long hug when I got home had been the perfect antidote all those years.

I read “Marley and me”, my husband’s gift, during the Xmas holidays. I thoroughly enjoyed reading every happening that you so vividly describe, from the little things that made me laugh to the precious moments where your true love for Marley is so evident.

I will not share with you more beloved pet stories. Actually, our Benjie could have been Marley’s xerox copy flying across the Atlantic, over the Mediterranean and finally, landing in Athens. I would rather express my deepest thanks to the author. Narrating in a perfect manner those 14 Marley years he presented a model of happiness which we people should always aspire to. Love, respect, honesty, selflessness, generosity can undoubtedly, lead to a happy life.

JOHN GROGAN CONGRATULATIONS AND BEST WISHES TO YOU AND YOUR LOVABLE FAMILY

I look forward to the time when your message board is set up so that I can introduce my family to you, my husband Mike, my two sons Chris and Nick and the newcomer, Benjie junior. In fact, if you ever travel to Athens we will be delighted to meet you.

Our very best regards to you all Grogans from Athens, Greece.

Katerina

9:00 AM  
Blogger Annie M said...

I feel your pain, John. My mother did the same kind of thing with old furniture, and probably used the same hideous shade of pink. She painted everything in my room that color at one point!

Your dresser is beautiful, in spite of the remnants of pink. However, if they really do bother you, you could always have it professionally dip-stripped.

7:05 PM  
Blogger ChristineW said...

Hi John,

Congratulations on the dresser! It looks wonderful!

I'm from Co. Donegal in Ireland, and my Iowa born and raised best friend gave me your book over the holidays to read, and I am so glad she did. I have literally just finished reading it, and its is truly an amazing book and I thank you so much for writing it. I lost my dog Tyson, a springer spaniel, almost 2 years ago, he just wandered off on Easter monday and never came back (he was found by a neighbour 2 weeks later curled up in a field, my dad said he looked very peaceful). He was 9, had serious liver problems, and he just went off to die. I never really came to terms with this as I didnt want to believe he was gone. I kept seeing him in my house, hearing his tail thud against the floor, and imagining him come running out the front door when I come home. Every time I realised he wasn't there I felt that ache deep down.

I have to say that reading your book was just so sad for me as it made me realise I had never grieved for Tyson properly, and after crying for about an hour or two, I feel that a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.

Thank you so, so much for such a wonderful, touching book, it has really helped me. Your family are so lucky to have you (and Marley) in their lives and I wish you every success and all the happiness in the world.

Your fan,

Christine Wilson

PS. If you ever want to bring your family to stay in beautiful Donegal, we own a wonderful family run campsite that I'm sure you would love. Just let me know!

6:43 AM  
Blogger Shannon said...

Hi John,
I finally finished your wonderful book Marley and Me after nearly a month. I could not stop crying long enough to finish it in one sitting. My husband and I also had a rambunctious 100 lb yellow lab that also did many horrendous and amazing things. He unfortunately died right before our third child was born. Your amazing book has inspired me to write down all of his stories (and there are many) for my children so that they will always remember the one in a million dog that stole our hearts and blessed us with the most amazing 10 years imaginable. Thank you for your book and opening your heart and sharing Marley with all of us. I know it was not easy.

Shannon Boccard

12:56 AM  
Blogger kraftymoose said...

John... nice job on the dresser. The marble adds a great deal to the overall look. I do not have that kind of patience.

I also have to add that I just finished "Marley and Me." I laughed, I cried, very hard. Thank you for pouring out your heart on this story. Many memories, happy and sad thoughts came to me. We lost our 10 year old black lab to bloat almost 3 years ago. I scrapbooked her life as my way to remember her.

4:45 PM  
Blogger The Harmony Collection said...

Great Job!!

1:39 PM  
Blogger Essy said...

Hi Mr Grogan,

Only last week I was strolling in a bookshop in Brussels and bought your book.
I read it yesterday and memories came flooding back. Mine was a Riesenschnauzer with the biggest heart and an equal amount of mischief (my boyfriend used to refer to him only half jokingly as a bulldozer), so I recognize a lot from your story. On numerous occassions I have laughed out loud. I'm very happy that you brought Marley's story to the world and to me and I'm looking forward to see the movie.

Good luck to you and your loved ones, humans or animals alike.

Esther de Jong van den Brand
Belgium

2:07 AM  
Blogger Robert said...

Hi, John --

I, too, apologize for my off-topic post, which has to do with Marley and Me. I recently finished the book and found myself so profoundly moved -- beyond anything I can adequately express.

Your love for this truly special animal, your willingness to stick with him through the bad and to appreciate his inner beauty, is inspiring.

I've often felt alone (even freakish)in my seemingly over-the-top affection for my dogs. But after reading M & M, I understand that others treasure the greatest gift that dogs have to offer: unconditional love.

Thank you, John. I wish you and your family the very best, and all the love your hearts can hold.

Robert in NC

7:40 AM  
Blogger Sophie said...

Hello, I don't really think this is the place to do this message, but the messaging area is under maintenance till march.

I am 18 and studying animal behaviour at university in chester, England. I would just like to say how much your book Marley and Me touched me. I have just finished it today and had to keep reading solidly through the last few chapters in an incredibly uncomfortable position because i simply couldn't put it down. I was, and still am in tears over it.

Some things have been going difficultly and complicatedly in my life for a couple of weeks, and reading your book made me able to release all the emotion that I've been keeping without knowing it.

The relationship with Marley is amazing, and made me laugh throughout. I have never had a dog, but its almost as if I did whilst reading your book. So thank you very much for writing about your, your family and Marley's life together. I have not cried like this as long as I can remember.

I would like to say well done on managing through it all and creating such a bond with your dog. I loved the last scene with Marley's 'reincarnation' particularly, as well as the neutering adventure!

Keep writing, and keep owning and loving dogs. More owners like you and your family are needed.

Thank you again for writing down his story, I wish the best of luck to you with all canines in the future!

8:48 AM  
Blogger iuri said...

John,
I gotta tell you, your book...

simply everything I believe about a relationship with a dog you said.
It doesn't matter whatever they do, you can't get rid of them.
I have four retriever's with a long list of things,...wich is not approved from most people.

But it doesn't matter, because I learned from then what really matters in life. I appreciate your work and your stories. I'll keep in touch.

I wish my best to you and your family.

6:55 AM  
Blogger kimberly said...

hi john i read your'e book marley and me i'm now reading bad dog's have more fun the front cover looks just like my j.j. i have 4 dogs 2 parrokeets 1 cockatoo and a turtle named murtle there's never a dull moment in my house. as far as refinishing furniture i am the worlds worst at it i had a dresser that belonged to my grandmother i started refinishing it when i was a teen i'm 33yrs. old now guess where it is still unfinished at my dads house. i love the way you wright you know just how to put things in a way were readers feel like they are right there with you i wish i could wright like that but for now i'll just keep enjoying every book that you wright thanks kimberly and the whole gang of fury tails

7:55 PM  
Blogger Kerri said...

Hi John,
I am leaving a comment here about the book, which I just finished. I have an 8-month old bullmastiff pup named Ruby. Every time I told someone her latest antic, they would tell me to read your book!
Thank you so much for sharing your story, it was beautifully told.
As I was finishing up the last few pages this evening (going through quite a few tissues), Ruby came excitedly bounding into the living room, a bunch of bananas hanging from her mouth! Her own little tribute to Marley :)
Thanks again!
Kerri W.

5:03 PM  
Blogger Anindyaningrum Chrisant said...

wow! and i thought my family was completely psycho for keeping an old peice of furniture locked up for 10 years! you outdid us! thank you for being so honest in your work. i read marley and me, and am glad that i'm not alone. i love your work and your style. keep em coming john!

8:00 AM  
Blogger scotchmi5t said...

This post has been removed by the author.

12:27 PM  
Blogger Wyo Girl said...

Mr. Grogan,
I know that you have received thousands of comments and messages about your book Marley and Me. But I just had to add one more. I started the book a couple of months before Christmas and was enjoying it thoroughly. When I broke out in laughter while reading, my 12 year old daughter would make me read the passage back to her, so, she could laugh along with me. During the holidays, I didn't have time to finish it and it was set aside for a while.
In January, my 13 year old black lab, Buff, came to the end of his road and because of diabetes, collapsing hips, blindness etc. I made the heart-wrenching decision that it was time to put him out of his misery. It was absolutely debilitating and I found myself almost unable to function in the weeks after. He went everywhere with me and slept the days away under my desk at my office. I often break in to tears in my car while driving and still look for him and talk to him before I remember he's not there.
A few nights ago I couldn't sleep and picked up your book when I headed to the living room at 3:00 am. I finished the last 70 pages through air gulping sobs. The line that stands out the most to me is, "I was embarrassed by how deep my grief went for this dog". That is exactly how I've felt and your book gave me permission to grieve. I now understand that it is normal to have that kind of connection to your dog and that I don't have to hide my sadness. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I can honestly say I've never read a book that touched me more or had a more profound impact. Bless you and your family (canine members as well).

5:46 AM  
Blogger Lora said...

Dear Mr. Grogan:
Today I finished reading "Marley & Me", and I cried..... Thanks for the beautiful book. May you always feel Marley's Love...
Lora

10:53 AM  
Blogger AJAiken said...

Again, I am not commenting on the blog ...

I've always been around animals and I must admit that I've always had the conviction that any dog can be trained - "no bad dogs; bad owners!". I must admit, since we got our own dog, a Red Setter, that belief has slowly evaporated. Though she isn't destructive, she is sly and rough and doesn't know her own strength. But she is in no way as bad as Marley was! Thank you for an incredible book that shows how integral animals, especially dogs, are in our lives - and made me miss my dog, now I'm at university, more than I have for a long time. And thank you for making me realise there ARE bad dogs - but they have pure hearts.
Thank you!
Amanda

8:32 AM  
Blogger Deepti said...

On December 17th 2006, we lost our best friend of 13 years to the dreaded Bloat. It’s been a year and we still miss him. We miss him so much that the very thought of him makes us cry. Even now more than a year later every time our daughter has a bad day at college she calls us up and cries, ‘Mom, I want Bingo back’. Bingo was a great dog. He was love personified…He was a huge dog and kids in the neighborhood called him... ‘Bingo the gentle giant’. About a month back a friend suggested we read ‘Marley & me’. We finally got down to buying the book about two weeks back. We were hooked from page one. It was like we were reliving our life with our Bingo. He had the same fear of thunder storms and he always managed to escape from any kind of cage we got for him! Thank you Mr.Grogan, for such a lovely book. Our deepest heartfelt condolences to you, Jenny and your kids. Marley was lucky to have been a part of your wonderful family. I know there will never ever be another Marley. He was a special gift from God. Just like how Bingo was for us. I have a large picture of Bingo in a special place in my home where he can continue to be with us and be our angel and watch over us. Below is a link to a video I made in tribute to him.It would be nice if you could watch the video and post your comment.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VorkmOR3l64&NR=1

8:55 PM  
Blogger Juliana said...

Olá John
Adorei seu livro e pode parecer idiota mas ao terminar a leitura senti falta do querido Marley. Chorei muito com esta linda história. Parabens pela sua sensibilidade. Grande abraço de Juliana/ Brasil
___________________________

Hi John
I love its book and can seem idiotic but when finishing the reading I felt lack of the Marley beloved. I cried very with this pretty history. Congratulations for its sensitivity. Great I hug of Juliana / Brazil
blog visits mine and leaves a message. It forgives for the translation

8:55 PM  
Blogger Rachelbo said...

Hi, I happened to picked up a dog MAX 2 years ago that has exactly Marley's conditions, and recently the situation just got worse... For the time being, Max is staying in my mom's place and she's thinking to put him to sleep because she cannot think of any other ways to take care of him. Of course, we all don't want that to happen, and for me, I've got three other dogs with my husband and we're not sure if we can really take Max in because we've got 3 dogs aldy and just moved in this new apartment, Max will definitely cause problems for us... I don't want to kill him, but I have no way out. I do not know what to do even the vet can't help me. I don't know what to do and I hope you may give me some suggetions to help Max and us. Pls pls let me know what I should do with Max since now everybody's blaming me because I picked up the dog in the first place. I want Max to have a saft happy home not sending him to death with my own hands...

5:06 AM  
Blogger Ariana said...

Hi John! I'd love to watch the movie that Marley participated (the one you mention in your book)! At least the scenes that he appears! Is it possible to add it in your website? I wish I had met Marley!

Thank you for sharing this beautiful story!

God bless you, your family and your new dog!!!

9:05 AM  
Blogger Annie M said...

Rachel,

I just read your message about Max and the trouble you've had with him. I can tell that you’re deeply upset about the situation.

All may not be lost. Please consider getting Max to a reliable professional trainer. He may not be as bad as your experience has lead you to think. If the problem is chewing, have his teeth checked to insure that there’s no physical problem he’s trying to relieve.

Some dogs simply don't do well in a multi-dog environment. Some dogs are not by nature apartment-dwellers. Max may simply need more one-on-one attention that you can provide with three other dogs in the household. He may need more exercise than the confines of an apartment allows for. He may, for instance, just need to be with a person who runs ten miles a day and wants a canine companion for the runs. He might do well as a working dog on a farm or ranch, where there were plenty of wide open spaces and something meaningful for him to do, whether it were chasing varmints or learning to track down livestock . If nothing else, consider placing him with someone who wants a dog to “patrol” large fenced areas, like a junkyard or construction site, where his being a little bit wild and crazy might actually be a benefit.

What I’m saying is that Max may not be a truly bad dog – he just may need another kind of situation to help him come into his own. And don’t be so hard on yourself for not being able to handle Max – not every person can handle every dog that comes along. There are some who are simply beyond “handling,” but others can change markedly with a change of surroundings.

Keep your chin up. I’m out here pulling for you.

Annie

2:29 PM  
Blogger Lori Donovan said...

John - Sorry to contact you this way, but I've misplaced your address. I wanted to check in with you to see if you were planning your party again for this year. Sarah Ayers was disappointed to not be able to perform last year and we'd love to line her up to play for your guests in '08. Let me know if you're planning another event. I'm sure we can make something work.

Thanks!

Lori Donovan
for the Sarah Ayers Band

2:27 PM  
Blogger Carina said...

Olá John,

Ontem acabei de ler " MARLEY E EU ",sou uma amante da leitura e posso dizer que foi um dos livros mais lindos que já li , chorei muito e passei o dia meio estranha , parece inrível mais senti a morte de Marley como se ele fosse meu .....Abraços Carina/Brasil

5:24 AM  
Blogger Barking Dogs said...

I love your book and can't wait for the movie. And the new book. Keep up the great work!

I have been inspired by your book and blog and have started my own about my experiences of living with two crazy labs.

If you get a chance to stop by : http://twobarkingdogs.wordpress.com/

D.

10:26 AM  

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