In the “front room” at Grandpa’s was a huge desk covered with things that were important to him. The desk sat right beside his big overstuffed chair. That was Grandpa’s chair and his desk. Others did not sit there. I have seen the desks owned and used by Mark Twain, Thomas Jefferson, and Carl Sandburg, to name a few, and the observer can tell a lot about a man by his desk. Mark Twain liked cigars. Carl Sandburg liked books and had shelves and shelves of them. Thomas Jefferson liked to invent gadgets. Homer Miller liked to clip articles and jot down facts from the newspaper he read daily. He had a desire to keep up with local, state and national politics and he was very opinionated about who was and who was not doing a good job in office. Some of Homer’s clippings were pasted into his albums while others stayed on the desk so he could find them easily to bring up in a conversation with a visitor.
There were some unwritten rules at Grandpa’s house. Playing in the cellar was forbidden. And poking around in Grandpa’s desk drawers was another no-no. That was his private space. I am not sure Grandma was allowed in there. But there were a couple of things on that desk that were for us. One was Grandpa’s big wood chip. He would send us out to turn over every wood chip we could find in the yard and promised that on our return, he would show us the very last chip we moved. Off we went like yellow jackets swarming around pies at a picnic, turning chip after chip until we were sure we hit every one. And then we went back to Grandpa to see if he could make good on his promise. Homer Miller would prop that big wood chip up against the door as soon as we went out and for certain, when we opened the door the chip would drop. He would pick it up and laugh and laugh. That was the last chip we turned over. My other grandpa, Pop, sent me to the yard with a salt shaker and told me if I could sprinkle salt on a bird’s tail it would not be able to fly. I really wanted to catch a bird so I wore myself out one afternoon trying to get close enough to salt a bird’s tail.
Grandpa had a card table and in his desk was the favorite past time for the adults – the game of Rook. Rook was introduced by Parker Brothers in the early 1900’s for those families who wanted to play cards but never wanted Poker cards in their homes. Many families were ruined when the Dad developed a fascination for Poker and gambling. Grandpa figured the best way to deal with that temptation was to keep it outside the home altogether. Grandpa and Grandma loved Rook and when we visited, my Mom and Dad usually joined them for a game. They played hard, like the outcome of each hand would determine the fate of the world. Grandpa did not like it when his partner messed up a trick, played a trump card at the wrong time, or cost him points. He was serious about winning the game of Rook.
When the weather was nice the kids could go out and explore but on rainy days we were supposed to sit and watch the grown-ups play. For the most part, kids were not included in the dealing of the Rook cards. Maybe that is when I discovered reading? We learned to bring along a game of our own to play. In that era, kids were expected to entertain themselves and a look from Dad was adequate to freeze us in our tracks and bring an end to whatever distraction we were causing for the Rook players. I tried to perfect his over-the-glasses stare to use as a freeze ray on my own kids but it just did not have the same effect.
Another item on Grandpa’s desk was a set of Dominoes, a double six set. He was a champion player and sitting with Grandpa at the card table made us feel like we were finally grown up and ready for the world. Dominoes taught us to match numbers and count but most importantly it gave us family time where we could talk, laugh, and enjoy each other’s company. Do you remember how the Dominoes had to be thoroughly shuffled and what a “boneyard” is? What a joy it was to yell “domino!” with Grandpa. Funny thing, there are 28 dominoes in a double six set … the same number of grandchildren Homer had.
On Grandpa’s desk, always on top the stack, was his Bible. It’s here on my desk now as I write and I can tell you this book has been well used. It is not stuffed full of 4 leaf clovers or photographs as that was not its purpose. Grandpa read his Bible thoroughly. I don’t have to turn many pages before I find a hand written note he added as a reminder of some important point he found while reading or some comment he wanted to add. Many of his notes served as place markers so he could easily find a passage again. An old preacher from the hills of western North Carolina, Vance Havner, said, “If you see a Bible that is falling apart, it probably belongs to someone who isn’t!”
This particular copy of the Bible came into the Miller home on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary. In the picture commemorating that event Grandpa wanted something as important to him as Grandma included. Grandpa’s copy of the Scripture is front and center. We certainly knew the value he placed on that book by its prominent position on his desk and in his life.