Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Grandma May's Chair

For much of my life the chair was only a rumor, one of the many stories my mother told about her mother, May Reid Gilpin, who died suddenly weeks shy of her thirty-second birthday, leaving Vera, my mother, age five; Gertrude, my aunt, age nine, and my grandfather, William. 

On that October afternoon in 1917, the family, for all intents and purposes, fractured. Needing to continue his work for the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, a job that required him to travel from time to time, William found family members to take care of the girls. Grandparents, aunts, and uncles made room for the three of them, but they were rarely all together.

Furniture and household belongings were not a priority, so the chair, the sole household item left from the family, ended up with Uncle Jim, then with his daughter, Ruth, and there it stayed for seventy years.

From time to time my mother would ask about it, and Ruth would say that it was in bad shape and that she was going to refinish it, but that never seemed to happen. Then, sadly, when Ruth was dying of cancer, she asked my parents to clean out her house, and there was the chair in the basement, and yes, indeed, it was in poor shape. All the upholstery was gone, the springs were rusted, and the frame was broken.

My father began to work on it, removing the springs and what was left of the upholstery, securing the frame, and stripping the finish. So when I inherited it, there was a framework but nothing else.

Not being as handy as my father, I decided to take it to the professionals at M. Demos and Son Furniture Repair Shop where they restored it to what I hope is close to its original beauty.

 I did not know May, of course, but it pleases me every time I walk by her chair to think of how she might have sat in it holding her babies, how its graceful lines must have pleased her, how something of her spirit lives on.

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