Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Things I Think About

This is the other contender for this week. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Things I think about

I was taking a break from work. I had just brewed a cup of Lapsang Souchong, my favorite tea, when the phone rang. “What are you working on?” my friend asked.

“A pair of Victorian chairs,” I answered. “A Lady’s Chair and a Gentleman’s Chair. His chair is larger and has arms.”

“You mean the kind that sat in the parlor and were seldom used except when one had visitors. They were most uncomfortable.”

“Yes, can you see it? A young lady perches on the rim of the chair, her back ramrod stiff, voluminous skirts artfully arranged in a fan around her legs, the toes of her boots peeking demurely from beneath the hem. In one hand she holds a bone-china cup of tea, honey and lemon, near her barely parted lips. With the other hand she balances the saucer beneath the cup. A velvet cloche, trimmed with ostrich feathers and a skiff of veil adorns her carefully coiled curls. Her hands are chastely covered with proper lace gloves, lace that she tatted herself. The gentleman caller balances his cup of tea on his knee while trying to get comfortable on the other chair. Her eyes are modestly downcast, her voice low as she inquires about the health of his mother and his sisters. The fire in the fireplace crackles but does not dare spit out an errant cinder. The young woman hears a rustle and hides a smile, knowing that her little sister is spying behind the parlor curtains, barely able to hold back a tide of giggles.”

“You really get into this, don’t you?”

“When I’m working I like to think about the life the furniture has seen, the home it is returning to and the people who will be using it. This job goes to a young couple who are restoring one of the historic homes in Havre. My woodworker had to do extensive repairs on these. I removed two layers of musty fabric, cotton stuffing filled with a century’s worth of soil and broken springs. I am covering the set in the traditional wine-colored velvet.”

“Working on anything else?” my friend asked.

“Yes. The next one is large, overstuffed, and cushy, sort of a Joe Beer-Can chair. A man could almost hide in it. It belongs to an old cowboy, lives on a ranch east of here. Picture this: it’s nearly time for supper. He sluffs his coat at the door, hangs it on a peg, crosses the scuffed hardwood floor, sighs heavily and plunks down into his chair. He tugs off his boots, one at a time, feeling the pull in his aching back with each motion. He can smell steak sizzling in the kitchen. He’ll just sink back a minute and rest his eyes while he waits for his wife to call him to the table.

“She told me the chair was in the house when they got married. It had belonged to his parents. They had no idea how old it was. But I can tell a lot from the construction. This one is early Twentieth Century, probably the 1920’s, built for comfort and durability. If I were to compare the two jobs, this one would be a Clydesdale plow-horse. The Victorian set is like a matched pair of Arabian carriage horses, elegant and high stepping. I won’t need to do any frame repair on this one but I’ll replace all the insides and cover it with a handsome wool plaid.”

“Do all your chairs have stories?”

“No, well, maybe. I’m looking forward to working on the wagon wheel chair—that’s what I call it. To me it is pure western nostalgia. We had one exactly like it with a matching couch in our living room out on the farm. Dad bought it at Valley Furniture in the 1950’s. I used to lounge in it, blue jean-clad legs slung over the wide wooden arm, Leave it to Beaver on the black and white TV screen, my algebra book in my lap masking the copy of Forever Amber I had sneaked out of the library. That’s a true story.”

Sondra Ashton

HDN: Looking out my back door

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