It’s the chair my Mother sat in every day, watching television, when she could still make it from the bedroom out to the family room to sit, on the days when she could just tolerate the frustration of the walker and the tether of the oxygen line.
It has been in my house since Mom died, nearly four years ago. For three years it sat in our little “library” room (a room probably more appropriately called a “den”) and I never sat in it.
Predictably, that cat commandeered it, claiming it as yet another spot she owned in this small house.
It still had the blue seat cushion that Mom used, and I could see her there, scowling, angry, frustrated, fed up, tired, defiant.
On the day I was ready to finally get rid of Mike’s chair, the beat-up glider he had used in that den, I noticed that the cat’s occupancy of Mom’s chair had destroyed that blue seat cushion. It was past salvaging. So after I dragged Mike’s old brown glider, the one that managed to absorb crumbs and dust on its rails in a way that made it impossible to clean and thus also unsalvageable, out to the street as our one allowed “bulk item” for our weekly trash pick-up, I took the blue seat cushion off Mom’s chair, and threw it in the trash as well.
I moved the chair from one corner of the room to another, in a position across from my Dad’s chair (that’s for another post, another day) and slightly more toward the window.
And I sat down in it, for the first time in more than thirty years.
Immediately I noticed how well the chair fit me, as if it were molded for me, or on me. The meat of my palms at the base of my thumbs was cupped exactly by the rounded ends of the chairs’ arms.
The chair hit me in just the right place in my back. My feet rested perfectly on the floor, with my knees at a comfortable right angle, instead of dangling as they usually do from most all the other chairs in the world that seem to be made from some universal measure for people six inches taller than I.
The seat accommodated my, let’s say, “ample” behind like it had been waiting just for me.
I suddenly felt gently immersed in a kinship with generations of women in my family who had used that chair before me – not just Mom, but Grammie, and Grammie’s Mom, and her mother before her, if I remember the history of the object correctly.
That chair has a sort of genetic memory, and sitting in it gave me a moment of that memory.
These were tough, no-nonsense, New England women. Mom, a nurse. Grammie, a schoolteacher who like me, was widowed early. Grammie’s Mom, both a farm wife and shopkeeper’s wife, in early twentieth century Maine.
My relationships with Mom and Grammie couldn’t really be described as “warm.” Loving, yes. But filled with the kind of petty struggles that seem never-ending between Mothers and daughters, generation to generation. Stand up straight, comb your hair, set the table, hem that skirt, sew on the button, shuck the corn, can’t you do something about that hair! Call the men to dinner, dry the dishes, get your nose out of that book and go outside!
But when I sat down in that chair, I felt a depth of kinship, a physical kinship, with these women that was never so apparent to me before.
We were the same physical size. We walked through the world with nearly identical hands. Their hips were broad, like mine, and they liked to sit up straight, as I learned to do after all those little struggles.
I am grateful for that. The chair brought me close to those ancestresses in a different and deeper way than I had felt or considered before; as a teenager I had simply taken it for granted that my Grandmother’s dresses fit me and I never really thought about what that meant until I sat in my grandmothers’ (plural, at least three generations of them) chair.
Here is some deep connection, I thought. Their hands rested here, just as mine do, on short armrests of just the right length for them, and now, for me. The back of this chair supported their lower backs after long, long days of housekeeping, farming, nursing, just as it supports mine now.
The top of the back of the chair, covered in the picture with the cashmere blanket Dad gave Mom when she was expecting my oldest brother, her first child, is quite ornate. It is not comfortable for resting your head on – HA! No matter how exhausted these women were, they still sat up straight, heads high.
And now that my hands are starting to resemble my Mother’s hands, with hints of the same kind of arthritis, and my joints creak a little more, the way hers did, I feel a deeper kinship with these women, and I sense a message from them – they didn’t expect me to understand this while they were living, but they left a message, in that chair, for me, for after they were gone.
You are not so different from us. You have us within you. You’ll be ok. You can make it, no matter what life throws at you. Rest and rock a bit, but keep your head up.
I hope that means I have at least some of their toughness, their strength and grit, their endurance, their resilience, their clarity and longevity, their practical, no nonsense get-on-with-it-ness that got them past 85, to 89, to 90.
We weren’t demonstrative enough with each other – not enough hugs or endearments. But they did everything they could to transmit practical wisdom to me.
Mom whispered when she sewed, drawing me in as she showed me the careful stitches to shorten the hems of every new skirt or dress, stitches that would be necessary for every new garment before “free alterations” or the new era of “petite” sizes.
And I am grateful for that. And for the chair that reminds me of that.
Grammie was fierce with the rolling pin, brisk with the homemade doughnut dough (which she got up at 5 am to make for us on our summer visits to Maine), and I remembered that when rolling out the cookie dough this holiday season, using Mom’s wooden rolling pin, which she wielded with similar ferocity against any pie crust that dared defy her.
And I’m grateful I got to watch and learn from them, skills that seem old fashioned and forgotten, but that give me some small pride and pleasure still. I’m grateful for the sense of shock I felt when an acquaintance casually confessed that she was walking on the cuffs if her trousers because she did not know how to shorten them.
Well, as a descendent of those hardy New England women, I’m grateful that I know how to thread a needle, measure and shorten a hem, sew on a button, roll out a pie crust or follow the rules of ICE (ice, compression, elevation) after a sprain. There is so much more they knew that I didn’t pay enough attention to – but I’m grateful for that chair that reminds me of those strong women who came before me, small as me in stature but richer by far in practical skill. Somehow when I sit there, in that chair that fits me perfectly, I feel a bit of their wisdom and experience coming through – remember – remember what we could do. What you still can do, if you put your mind to it.
So on this first post for my “thankful Thursdays,” I’m sticking to the basics like that chair.
I’m grateful too for the den in this little house where that chair resides, in the spot where Mike’s glider used to be, where memories of evenings listening to music with him remain vivid.
And for the little house itself, in these frigid January days, that has light and heat and food and blankets within it. And pipes that haven’t frozen through years of winter as harsh as this.
I’m grateful that so far, the chickens have survived the subzero cold, while ceasing to lay eggs, as expected.
I’m grateful that the car starts, that the plumber came on Christmas Eve (time and a half, but hey, he came) and that I found the right part for the dishwasher, even though I’ll have to pay to have it installed.
I’m grateful to live in a place that values open, natural spaces, or as natural as they can be remade to be, to walk and breathe in, and to see the late afternoon winter sun paint the grasses and the ponds a glowing rose-gold while hawks soar and circle above.
I’m grateful and humbled to be the mother of the most amazing human being I’ve ever met, whose kindness, compassion, and cheerful perseverance in the face of a loud and confusing world is an example I continually hope someday to match.
I’m grateful for that silly cat, who gets nose to nose with me each morning, insisting I get up, get going, hop to it, rise and shine, there’s work to do here, feed me first of course and then you can deal with child and chickens.
And I’m grateful for two more nights with the loveliest, freshest (and cheapest – free! delivered!) Christmas tree we’ve ever had in this house, which has shed not a needle since I won this year’s Battle of the Tree, and glows there in this den, giving me a little more time to be grateful for the peace and hope of this season and an excuse to linger and rock a bit longer, gently, in my Mothers chair.