Carl’s Furniture Refinishing was supposed to be closed on Monday.
But early Monday morning – like every other morning – Carl Harden woke up and went to work stripping and refinishing furniture.
“Seven days a week, and I haven’t missed a day in years. This is my whole life. I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” Harden said.
Harden is 86 years old. He first learned how to refinish furniture 70 years ago, as a teenager.
“I worked making 40 cents an hour,” Harden said.
It was good, honest work. Work like this was why Harden’s dad, a sharecropper in Missouri, followed Harden’s brother to California in 1940.
“He came back and said, ‘Papa, money grows on trees in California,’” Harden explained.
The family sold everything they had – mostly chickens and pigs – and bought a 1928 DeSoto. With $65 in their pockets, they headed west. After running out of money in Arizona, Harden and his father picked crops, and the family eventually made it to Livermore, Calif.
From that point on, California’s been good to Harden.
“I’ve really had no problems in my life, and all my ex-wives still love me,” Harden said.
All the ex-wives. Like a California movie star, Harden’s been married and divorced four times since returning from the Korean War. It’s his fifth wife who is pressuring him now to retire.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Harden said. “My wife works. I have no hobbies. Work has been my whole life.”
For the first time, it sounds like Harden’s marriage is going to stick.
“I’m going to keep this one here. I think I’m too old to change,” Harden said.
It seems like that’s true in more ways than one. While Harden opened the store today, he said he wasn’t going to take on any new work.
Then, a new customer stopped by.
“Do you want me to refinish it?” Harden asked.
The customer wrote down his name, phone number and address, and Harden said the side table would be finished within two weeks.