Growing up in a home with 9, or sometimes 10 people (when Grannie came to stay after Grandad’s death), you can imagine that when we would gather around the (most likely) 21” black and white television screen in the living room, part of the television/stereo record player combo that most homes had – product of RCA Victor – most of us sat on the floor to watch tv. That was also in that historic era when parents had to constantly tell their kids not to sit so close to the television, or they would ruin their eyesight. It was also because when you had five kids sitting three feet away from the TV, no one else could possibly see what was going on…
The idea of actually sitting on an chair of any sorts to watch our favorite program was as familiar as spending supper time speaking Italian. Since all the members of the house were descendants of Anglo-Saxon invaders during the time of William the Conqueror, Italian most likely was never going to happen. So, on the floor we would slide in time to watch Get Smart or the Beverly Hillbillies, or in later years, Star Trek or the Man from U.N.C.L.E.
We sat on the floor, but of course our parents never did. It was just part of the natural order of things. Mom would sit on the couch, often accompanied by Fritz, our 40-pound dachshund, or one of the smaller siblings, who couldn’t see over the older ones “fat heads” (you make a better door than a window!), who also served as our version of the remote control, as Mom or Dad would direct them to turn the channel, which also included fine-tuning the VHF to make the black and white image more viewable.
And Dad sat on “his” chair. The chair pre-dated my existence. It was a nice big chair, with wooden wide arms that each had a little groove cut into the side, courtesy of when Ray and Tim were little, and decided to saw the arm with their little metal saws – they got about ¼ inch in before Mom came running as she heard the sound of furniture construction/destruction happening. The arms were also wide enough to balance a tin of sardines, a salt shaker, and a sleeve of saltine crackers, on those evening when Dad would spend a good half hour shoveling sardine crackers to the bunch of peeping birds gathered all around.
It had been his chair for probably ever – it matched the little oak coffee table that must have been part of the set – we used the coffee table to make forts, or to turn upside down and create a boat. There was also an oak stand that held the lamp, and the pipe ashtray, always at the elbow of Dad who would spend more time fiddling with his pipe, getting new tobacco, tamping it down, lighting it, taking a couple of puffs, and then cleaning it out with his little metal pipe thing, and refilling and going through it all again. As we sat there sucking in pipe tobacco year after year, we just assumed that was part of any family’s ritual.
But the chair had two big cloth cushions, with the back one able to be removed, and turned around to remake the fluffiness of the upright part of the chair. There Dad would sit, sometimes with a bowl of ice cream, or in the summer, a beer, or when he was working on a leather project from Tandy Leather, he would swing the end table around in front of him, and have a workbench, all while the television played in the background.
I never thought of it as his “throne,” but it was certainly Dad’s chair. Some afternoons, while he was still at work, one of us might occupy the thing while reading a good children’s book, but when evening came – it went to the owner, for sure. It has now been passed down to one of my sisters, which makes it most likely nearly 70 years old. Still doing its thing.
So, in 2012 when Cheri was getting ready to take the job in Fargo, we went furniture shopping to fill the townhouse she was going to live in. We found a great white leather sofa that had two of the end seats able to recline, and another single big ol’ leather chair that also reclined. In all the previous years, I never really thought of having my own “dad’s chair,” but it turned out to be perfect to come and be part of our family room décor. From the beginning, the chair had a lot of “puff” to it, even with the leather, and as I would sit in it, it felt like I was in zero gravity – it would just suspend me, with the footrest up, and more often than not, I would miss parts of tv shows we would watch, as the chair would lure me to take a nice nap in the evening. It was really a glorious chair. It sat next to the window in the family room, and so in the winter, the leather would get a bit chilly. That was when we took one of our blankets, with polar bears on it, and drape it over the chair – christening it to become “the polar bear chair,” and one that the cats also loved to curl up on, or sometimes try to crawl under the blanket to make a secret cat hideaway.
It was a great chair, but it was engineered with a spring for the footrest, so when you pushed the button on the side of the chair, it would let loose, and send the footrest up in the air. This was fine, and when it was newer, all you had to do was push down on the footrest to bring things back upright, and be able to simply climb out of the chair. However, the reason you don’t find leather recliners in ancient Roman villas is that chairs with moving parts eventually wear out. By contrast, Dad’s chair only needed new upholstery, and it still going strong. It happened that the locking mechanism for the footrest became more and more, shall we say, finicky, and I would have to do some abdominal crunches to get the thing to lock and allow me to get out of the chair.
Finally, about two weeks ago, I gave the foot rest a good shove with my legs, and instead of locking down, it drifted sideways and left the footrest hanging half closed, unable to shut. Something had broken. Before I could get some time to turn the chair over and see what might be needing to be fixed, calls came from the rest of the family to “just go buy a new chair” and “this one’s shot – just move on…” As though it were an old plow horse that needed to be put down after so many faithful years of service.
I refused. For the last couple of weeks, then, I have had to climb into the chair around the footrest, and be satisfied with the angle, since it seems to be immovable. Of course, each time I get in or out of the chair, my endearing family is quick to call for its demise and to get rid of it. But it’s my chair. There are just some things you sometimes need to take time with, before saying goodbye. I still haven’t looked at the undercarriage to even see if it can be fixed, because as soon as I think to do that, Adam makes his pitch that it can never be repaired and just toss it out and all of that kind of talk.
I’ve come to discover things about myself as I grow older. I like the same coffee cup day after day. When I had to change my pillow after who knows how many years, it was a tough time to trust that a new one will do what the old used to do as it cradled my head. I don’t like changing people who cut my hair, or dentists, or eye doctors, and certainly not other doctors. We have a new grocery store that is really convenient to where we live, but the layout of the store drives me nuts, and is illogical in terms of what is placed where, so it takes twice as long to shop there. I try to buy the same dress shoes when my old ones wear out. The idea, then, of having to go shop for a whole new recliner just makes me fatigued already. It’s not that I don’t like change – it’s that I like some things I can count on, without messing with them.
So, for now, I’ll climb in and out of my chair, until sometime I can see if I can fix it, and restore it to its former glory. Or I might have to buy a new one. Just not yet. Not yet… I’m not ready to let that one go, since it is my chair – my own Dad chair, that deserves more care than getting tossed out somehow.
We live in a disposable world, with the rate of change rapidly changing. To live intentionally, I believe, is to not be in a hurry to dump something that right now doesn’t seem to be working quite right. It happens in relationships, in objects, in jobs, and more. There was a time when the response to something not working right was something other than, “Get rid of it.” It was more, “Let’s see what we can do…” and perhaps give it, or the relationship, or the whatever a second chance, at least to try. I hope that you are able to see your own life as being worth the second chance, a bit more trying, and that as a result you will find the precious value in what is, instead of only focusing on what might be tomorrow. Blessings.
Word for the day: apothegm. Pronounced AP-uh-them. It sounds Greek, doesn’t it, and it is. It comes from apophthegma, meaning “something clearly spoken.” From apo, “from” and phthengesthai, meaning, “to utter.” Basically, we are talking about pithy sayings or instructions – anything that distills an idea into a few short words. Mark Twain was great on creating apothegms – he once wrote,” Comparison and the death of joy.” One that has become popular today, that I abhor is the saying, “It is what it is.” Stupid. Toulouse Lautrec once stated, “A group of people is called a hell.” Find your favorite apothegm, and let it define you a bit to this world.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.