A Lady Sits Awaiting

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I have always had a love for antique things. There is a mystery and romance about objects that have lived through lifetimes past. The stories they could tell! My grandmother’s house was a treasure box of ancient artifacts; my favorite was a beautifully flowered, upholstered Victorian Ladies Chair. The chair’s sculptured wooden frame and delicately embroidered cushioned seat seemed like something that queens and fine ladies of fortune would have called their own. To be in possession of such exquisite inheritance is nothing short of thrilling.

As a little girl, I remember curling up in the chair and reading or writing for (what seems now) hours on end. I remember playing dress up in my grandmother’s old theater costumes – the miles of pastel colored chiffon and organza creations trailing regally behind me, then gathering like gentle clouds around my small frame as I sat imperially upon my brocade throne. I remember endless moments of sitting on my grandmother’s lap and listening to stories from years gone past of my father and his brothers and cousins, and stories about her own childhood during the Depression. Funny stories about the silly things these grown-ups did and said as small children just like me. Her stories worked their way into my imagination to the point where I felt as if I had been there alongside these child-versions of my relatives, laughing along with them. So many hours and moments spent with that chair; so many memories held firmly within its oaken arms.

Once as I sat upon my grandmother’s lap, I asked about the chair. “Where did you get this chair, grandma?” I scratched a rhythm across the brocade fabric, a comfortable habit for my senses.

“Oh, this chair has been in our family for generations. It was my mother’s chair when I was a little girl, and it was her mother’s chair before that. Many interesting women have sat in this chair. Many wonderful and sad things have happened in this chair.

I remember when my mother was expecting my youngest brother – your Uncle Ed – and she used to sit in this chair and knit socks and blankets and other things, waiting for him to be born,” my grandma’s face would become both instantly dreamy and lively at the same time whenever she told a story from her past. I loved to hear her voice as it recalled happy times from her childhood. She would tell me stories of all of these fine women who had spent hours of their own lives celebrating and suffering Life’s ups and downs. Even as a young child I could hear the “happy-sad” tones of nostalgia and the wistful whispers of what-could-have-beens.

Time passed as it tends to do, and I grew up as little girls tend to do – first into an emotionally charged pre-teen, then a completely over-socialized teenager, a congenial coed followed quickly afterwards, and then sooner than I had ever expected, I became a wife at the tender age of 23.

As my husband and I began to feather our nest, family members offered us random bits and pieces of furniture to help us along. I loved that early eclectic design style. Every piece of artwork, furniture and kitchenware had a story to tell. The best jewel in our crown collection, however, came from my parents.They offered me the Ladies-in-Waiting Chair (asmy grandmotherhad always called it) – that most beloved and coveted chair from my childhood. I was thrilled and so appreciative of the gift of that chair! I told my husband all about it during the car ride to pick-up the chair. I told anyone who would ask me about it when visiting our home. I was thrilled to have such an important piece of our family’s history entrusted to me. I vowed to take good care of it always, to tell my own children the tales that were the chair’s life story, to ensure that there were more stories to be told by them to their children – my grandchildren – years from now.

It so happened that as time went on, many of the family hand-me-down pieces of furniture found homes in other places as my husband and I were able to purchase newer, trendier pieces to replace them. Though at the time it felt exciting to be able to afford to create a style of our own rather than being given portions of design tastes from several different homes, I also found myself feeling less emotionally attached to my possessions. Gone with the furniture were the stories we had associated with our childhoods. One of thefew pieces of furniture neither of us ever talked about or even hinted at getting rid of was the Ladies-in-Waiting-Chair. With every move we made, the chair always came with us.

A few years ago my parents came to visit us here in Florida from my hometown in Pennsylvania where they still reside in my childhood home. My father happened to notice my grandma’s chair. “Wow! I can’t believe you still have that chair. Do you know where that chair came from?”

Well, I had listened to the lineage of the chair for years from my grandmother, and so it was with great confidence that I told him that yes, I knew it had been in grandma’s family for many generations. My father looked oddly at me and shook his head.

“No, I found that chair in the attic of the first home your mom and I ever owned. It was just a frame, no cushion or springs. I had it reupholstered and gave it to your grandma. Eventually she gave it back to us.”

To say that I was both startled and confused would be an understatement of great proportion. I sputtered and stuttered out the stories that my grandma had told me. My father just shook his head and smiled. “Your grandma has always had a great imagination.”

It took a few minutes for me to understand and accept what I was being told. The hours I had spent listening to the stories my grandmother had woven for me about that chair drifted through my mind like a movie flashback. So many years of family “history” created by her, I wasn’t exactly sure what to think. I didn’t mention what my father had told me to my husband or anyone else. I simply tucked the information away in my brain to think about another time.

Now that I take the time to truly contemplate the chair, my memories of it, the stories my grandmother told me about its fictional past, and the true history of the chair, I think that instead of this once treasured gem of family heritage becoming a tarnished piece of fake costume jewelry, emotionally pawned off to me by a grandmother with a lively imagination, I cherish the chair even more than before.

My grandmother gave me something more than a family heirloom when she gave me the chair. She gave me the gift of storytelling. Those hours I spent listening to her spin tales about the chair’s storied past were how I learned the art of authorship. I learned how words alone can paint pictures in your mind that seem more real than anything you’ve ever lived through, how words alone can cause your heart to swell or break with love for people you’ve never known in real life.

My grandmother has often been accused of “making up stories” by those who are kind and “telling lies” by those who are not so kind. I simply think she has an ability few people are lucky to be gifted with – the ability to create worlds and lives beyond this one. Where some only get to tread one path in life, she has traveled many, and I’ve been lucky enough to travel some of those paths with her. Even more marvelous is the fact that we have traveled together, two ladies who didn’t have to wait for adventure to find us; we found life within our own minds from the comfort of our beautiful antique chair.

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