On Thursday night at ten o’clock, my husband helped Sue carry the chair to her car.
“You did it! Congratulations!”
“There went fifty years of my history,” I replied, pushing my way into the front hall and wiping what I hoped he’d think was rain from my cheeks.
“I can’t believe how fast it sold,” he said. “And now we have room for the new chair when it arrives Saturday.”
We closed up the house and turned in for the night—both exhausted from the flurry of activity that occurred within five minutes of placing our ad on our local e-classifieds three hours earlier. I’d received so many inquiries about the chair, I felt like stock trader with a hot initial offering. Not only did I have Sue’s promise to get to our house by ten o’clock, but I had three back-up buyers—all of whom would have come to my house at midnight if I’d let them.
My husband went right to sleep. I lay under the heavy covers, feeling the way I imagine a mother dog must feel when her puppies are given up for adoption. Even though its seat had torn and its fatigued springs pulled butts into it like quicksand, the chair had been a great piece of furniture in its day. Listening to the deep, rhythmic breathing of my husband’s sound sleeping, I stared at the ceiling and remembered.
It was early August, 1956. My mother, sister, and I were living in our new summer house, and Dad drove 100 miles on weekends to join us. Mother was in charge of furnishing the house, since we moved in with the bare-bones minimum—beds, a makeshift table made from a door on sawhorses, and outdoor chairs and chaises for the patio that doubled as indoor furniture in the evening.
Mother, like any red-blooded, fifties-era housewife, savored the idea of outfitting a second home on a sensible budget and twice a week hauled her purse and her teenaged daughters to the local-area furniture stores. While she pored over fabric books and window coverings, my sister and I would relentlessly investigate the stores’ inventory. We sat in every chair and couch, opened every bureau drawer and wardrobe. We loved alerting Mother to items she should consider.
We were not looking for a leather chair. But there it was, the color of horse chestnuts when they first pop out of their green prickly shells. Its back reclined ever so gently, and the matching ottoman invitingly cozy-ing up to it like a dog at its owner’s feet. The chair was dainty compared to those we had seen in hotel lobbies, exactly the right size for a house.
“Mother,” I yelled across the showroom. “Here’s the perfect chair!” Fingering the cool and velvety leather, I was sure she’d she would succumb to its charm. She walked over and glanced at the tag.
“Not at that price! We’re furnishing a beach cabin, not a manor house.”
“But try it! The back reclines. It’s so-o-o comfortable.”
My sister, who found the chair as alluring as I did, joined the campaign.
“You’re always telling us it’s the quality that counts. You can see it’s well made, Mother,” and, as though he were in collusion with her daughters, the salesman took the cue to elaborate on its masterful design and craftsmanship.
Although our mother looked stern, we could see her beginning to weaken. Suddenly I was seized with inspiration—our parents’ wedding anniversary was coming up.
“It could be Dad’s anniversary present, his very own ‘papa chair’ to relax in when he comes to the cabin. Oh, please, Mother, please.”
She was reconsidering, melting at the idea of this deliciously luxurious chair welcoming her tired breadwinner at the end of his workweek, not to mention the compliments she’d get on her exquisite taste. My sister and I each offered to contribute allowance funds, but the salesman cinched the deal when he assured her the chair could be delivered by that Friday. On our way back to the cabin, we stopped at the Five & Dime to buy yards of wide gift-ribbon in which to tie it.
When the cabin was sold thirty years later, the leather chair was one of the few things I coveted. Sure, it had seen better days—beach sand had been ground into it, a family dog had nibbled on its legs, grandchildren had wet their pants on it, jumped off its back, and toppled it in sibling wars—but the chair was still elegant. In the last ten years, however, it had become wrinkled and saggy—not unlike its owners. The decision to get rid of it was painful but necessary.
I lay in bed, still wide awake. I have always remembered the look on my father’s face fifty years ago when he walked into our cabin and saw the chair. He couldn’t stop smiling and, in fact, he grinned from ear to ear each time he settled into it for the duration of his lifetime. I pictured Sue when she walked into our home and saw the chair. She couldn’t stop smiling, either. Sitting in it, she murmured a little “o-o-oh,” paid cash on the spot and mentioned that it reminded her of the furniture in her grandparents’ house. She was confident she could repair the torn seat, and after we completed our transaction, she murmured “I love it.”
What a great way for the chair to leave, I suddenly realized. How much better this way than a trip to the dump! Fifty years is long enough for a piece of furniture to be in one family. “Bon voyage, chair,” I whispered into the darkness. Then, conjuring a mental picture of the handsome new addition to be delivered Saturday, I turned onto my side and joined my hubby in the oblivion of sleep. 2007
Copyright ©2009 Sara J. Glerum