Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Grandmother's Kitchen Chair

I've mentioned that I spent the past week in Pennsylvania and, as is always the case, there is a bitter-sweetness to a visit to the town in which one grew up. There is both the joy of reconnecting with family and friends and the sadness of missing those who are no longer with us. One afternoon I just drove around town revisiting houses and parks and places that were meaningful to me when I was young. My Grandmother Valentine's house, where I lived for the first six years of my life, has recently been sold and is being renovated. My Grandmother Werner's house has been refurbished and looks wonderful. My parent's house, where one of my brothers now lives, needs a lot of work. These are all things that make me wonder about how the past and the present exist in tandem.

I stayed for a couple days at my sister Anne's house which is lovely and perfect and meticulously cared for. She and her husband Andy hosted the family party that was held on Sunday. There were thirty people – most of them relatives – and it was a great day. But something very evocative happened early in that day. I was sitting in Anne's dining room with my Aunt Rosie who is in her 80s and looks terrific when I noticed a chair sitting in the corner. It wasn't a modern chair like most of those in Anne's house but an old wooden kitchen chair. There was carving on the back of it that is so well-worn as to almost be invisible and the chair was painted a soft green.

“Is that Gram's kitchen chair,” I asked Anne and she said that it was. Oh, the memories that came pouring out!

Gram's kitchen was the center of her house – everything revolved around it. It was a big room, usually painted a light aqua color with white trim. It was split in half by a divider on which she always had lots of house plants. On one side was the dining table and chairs and on the other side was a tiny kitchen with hardly any counter-space at all. But set against the wall in the passage way formed by the divider was a small table with two collapsible surfaces. The center of the table had drawers and then two surfaces could fold out from there. One of the drawers was our favorite because she always kept it full of cookies and crackers. Other grandmothers had cookie jars but ours had a cookie drawer which always contained Oreos and Fig Newtons among other things.

On either side of the table sat a wooden chair with a carved back. There in Anne's house was one of them. I brought it over to the table and sat down on it and it was almost as though something magical happened. I remembered all the times I sat on those chairs through all the years of being at Gram's house. I sat on them while I watched her cook. I sat on them while I helped her peel potatoes for potato pancakes or apples for apple dumplings. I sat on them while she taught me to make mincemeat tarts and while dropping the golden raisins into the tiny tassie tins making pecan tassies.

When I was in high school and worked downtown I'd walk up to Gram's for lunch and sit on one of those chairs while she made me braunschweiger sandwiches on her home-made rye bread with spicy mustard, onion slices, and her home-made refrigerator pickles. I sat there while we talked about her youth and young womanhood, about her parents' journey from the “Old Country,” and the way her father would hang bells on his cart as he pushed it through die Schwarzwald to keep the “haints” away. It was sitting at that little table that I traced the first pattern for her Lady Quilts and where I drew the hands and hair and sash on the blocks for her to embroider.

The party was a wonderful one but I wouldn't let anyone else have that chair all day. My nephew carried it to the garage for me and I moved it from table to table as I visited with people. Somehow the security of that wonderful old chair helped me through my natural jitters and nervousness I go through whenever I am in a crowd, however well loved the people in it are.

The next day Anne asked me if I wanted to take the chair home with me. I said “no.” I wanted to remember it the way it was that day. My Aunt Rosie asked if she could have it and when it was time for her to leave, Anne put it in her car. I'm sure Aunt Rosie's bottom has even more memories of that chair than mine does.

I don't know that there is any more to say about that chair. I wish I'd taken a picture of it. But maybe it is best this way, just remembering all the time I'd spent with it and how it helped me through a day I was nervous about. It was like Gram Werner was there with me making sure I would be alright.

Thanks for reading.  

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