he chair was a soft cornflower blue, velvet with a button-tufted back, made in Lenoir by the Fairfield Chair Company, which, 50 years ago, had already been making chairs for 50 years, so I think they knew what they were doing.
That chair swiveled and rocked, and although it was made for one person, my grandmother was slender and didn’t take up much room. And I was small, 6 years old, so I didn’t either, and the two of us fit perfectly in that chair together, filling in all the space, she on the right side, loose Kleenex tissues stashed in between the arm and the seat cushion; me wedged on the left side, feet barely reaching the ottoman in front of us.
In winter, when school was out for the holidays, when it was too cold to work in the garden and too cold to walk to the neighbors’ and too cold to sit on the front porch in another set of chairs — her cane-back Kennedy Rockers from P&P Chair Company; the factory was just a few blocks from her house — my grandmother turned on the television and she and I wriggled ourselves into that chair in the den, settling in to watch her stories, as she called them, daytime soaps, first with All My Children right after lunch, then As the World Turns and Guiding Light. I tried to take in what I could of the storylines — by the time I was a freshman at Appalachian State University, some 12 years later, those stories had somehow become my stories, too; I knew Pine Valley and Springfield as well as I knew Asheboro, and I scheduled my classes around the timing of General Hospital — but mostly, back then, I was happy just to sit next to my grandmother, shoulder to shoulder, while we watched TV and she worked on a needlepoint piece, her eyes darting from the needle and yarn in her lap to the screen.
She made large tapestries — wall samplers and covers for her organ bench and footstools — and her canvases, stitched with heavy Persian wool, draped across our legs like a blanket while she worked. My head nodded as we rocked and my eyes fell closed as I watched her pull those stitches slowly and rhythmically. Even now, I can’t remember ever feeling quite so warm; I can’t remember ever feeling quite so content.
Years later, after my grandfather died — he had his own chair where he’d sit in the evenings and listen to Cronkite tell us the way it was — and my grandmother moved from their house to an assisted-living apartment, the Fairfield chair went with her, pressing against the walls of her new, smaller den, and although I didn’t try to squeeze in with her anymore, the chair dwarfed her, her narrow shoulders gone a bit slighter, her lean legs gone a bit thinner.
On weekends, when I’d visit, I’d find her in the chair, her hands empty and folded in her lap, arthritis having long stopped the needlepoint, but she’d always swivel the chair toward me when I walked in the room, rocking and smiling, and I’d find a way to sit as close as I could.
When my grandmother couldn’t sit in the chair anymore, we helped her up and eased her into the bed, a more comfortable spot. You know, it takes a rocking chair a few seconds to stop after someone exits from it. I’d never noticed that until the day that I did.
Occasionally these days, when I stop by an estate sale on a Saturday, I’ll run across one of those old chairs, one that looks exactly like my grandmother’s, even if the velvet is a spring green instead of blue, even if the armrests look a bit more worn. I wonder for a minute who sat there, whether they had a grandchild of their own, someone who found a way to stay close, to climb in and fill the empty space.
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