How many times have we set something aside that needs doing and thought: Yeah, someday, not today, but someday I’ll get around to it. Life is busy, we are bombarded with demands constantly, “stuff” clutters our attics, basements and closets. The jobs of sorting, organizing, fixing and refurbishing often don’t make it to the top of the list. Yet some things are hard to throw away. Some get buried, covered, boxed up or otherwise hidden. Some are just waiting for their day.
Ten years ago I worked at a restaurant where Laguiole steak knives were part of the tableware, appearing only when someone ordered an expensive steak. The type we had were sleek, elegant, wooden-handled and costlier per knife than the steak. I remember the servers carefully polishing the sharp blades and setting them side-by-side in perfect rows on napkin-lined trays in preparation for dinner service. Laguiole’s signature bumblebee, affixed at the uppermost portion of the handle, seemed to all of us a mark of authenticity.
(Little did we know that there are no regulations prohibiting the use of the Laguiole name or bee on cutlery. Imitations abound. Chances are decent that the ones I have are not authentic knives from the village of Laguiole in the department of Aveyron in France. For my knives and their purpose, does this matter? Probably not.)
If you have ever worked in a restaurant of any kind, you know that some people are more careful than others with plates, glasses and silverware. Some are gentle, some bang things around. Some have a better sense of the replacement cost of such supplies. Some understand that certain items are best washed by hand rather than put through the high heat and pressure of an automated dishwasher. Some forget they have been told not to put the wooden-handled Laguiole steak knives in the dishwasher.
Ours got bad. Their fine finishes were blasted off and they began to look shabby. A restaurant serving roasted rack of herb-cured lamb with pomme purée or king salmon “sous vide” or classic iced grand marnier soufflé cannot expect guests to use shabby knives. As a manager was about to throw them away, I asked if I could have them. Sure, he said, why not?
I promptly wrapped them in a napkin, bound it with a rubber band, brought them home with the very good intention of refinishing those handles, put them in a drawer and forgot about them for ten years or so.
Oh, look, those old steak knives! While rummaging around in a drawer recently for something else I hadn’t been able to locate in a while, I came upon the knives. They looked as shabby as I remembered, but my intention was revived. Today seemed like a good day to remedy their finish. (Perhaps the doll mender from the story of Edward Tulane was whispering in my ear?)
It’s a rainy Sunday afternoon. Eppie was sleeping off a sickness, Rise was amusing herself with learning how to braid, practicing with shoelaces and clothesline, which work well for this purpose, in case you wondered.
I had a few moments for a little job so I went to my shelf of paints where a can of marine grade polyurethane sits front and center. In the last few weeks I used it on some funny little garden signs that are not yet finished and I lightly sanded and then refinished the ash handle of a very fine Smith and Hawkin garden fork that Peggy gave me (and doesn’t that look nice now, thank you, Peggy!).
I nabbed the poly, found some super-fine-grit sandpaper, laid out the steak knives, prepared a small old brush by snipping off the tips of its bristles (that somehow had dried paint clumped on them),
sanded and dusted the knife handles, then devised a way to prop them to dry. A cooling rack set up high and anchored with a bear-shaped jar of vinegar worked beautifully. Imagine my delight as I brushed the first strokes of poly on the parched wood. Look at that rich color!
Polyurethane can bring out the gorgeous grain in wood the way salt brings out the amazing flavor in food. See the difference between done and not-yet-done in another way? These two are propped in my makeshift drying rack.
Completing all five gave me a sense of accomplishment that the ten-year delay on this job only heightened.
There will always be more undone than done in my world, always more to do than I have time to do, but the truth today is that I DO sometimes get around to the things (some of them anyway, a small fraction of them anyway) about which I seem to be always saying: I’ll Get Around To It. And when I do, it’s a victory like no other.
Do I need these steak knives? No. Would anyone else like them? Maybe. Was this a necessary task? Hardly. But seeing the wood go from sad, rough and dull to smooth, shiny and richly colored was a thrill. Knowing the knives have life and use yet in them and that someone may be glad to have them makes me smile. Making a checkmark on the mental list I keep is also satisfying (even if I did forget I had them!).
Remember that old saying “You can’t please all of the people all the time”? Personally I think it’s ok to settle for pleasing a few people as often as I can because my experience tells me it’s better to devote my energies to fewer people for maximum effect than spread myself over many people to little effect.
Along parallel lines, I’ve also always told myself: “You can’t tackle all the little jobs all the time.” They will wait for their day. I settle for small victories when I can – a little job here, another little job there. Over time I chip away at my list, even if more things get added to it. Rome wasn’t built in a day. I sometimes even find some little treasure hidden in a box, or something I can finally bring myself to part with – like these knives that need a new home…
Anyway, now I can say I Got Around To It!