The Pregnant Chair

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Many years ago, I had a dealer come over to appraise an antique desk I wanted to sell. She was ho hum about the desk in question but instantly interested in a chair she noticed off in the corner, a raggedy, frayed one that had been a part of my childhood and that’s still in my life today.

My mother had given it to me long ago during one of her times of uncluttering.  She insisted she didn’t want to burden her children with that job. At the time, I needed a chair for my small apartment and was glad to have even this tattered one to fill an empty space.

Mom had laughed that this chair was special to her since it was the only place where she could sit comfortably when she was pregnant. Mom had six children so it got plenty of use. She called it the pregnant chair. Now, my whole family calls it the pregnant chair and it’s taken on a personality all its own.

Dad had recovered the chair seat several times, lastly with some ugly blue material that had a plastic quality to it. I’m sure he’d thought that would make it last longer. Unfortunately, he was not an upholsterer so the chair always had a shabby, forlorn look and a perpetual sag. I’d inherited it with the ugly, blue material.

The dealer said the wood was unusual, either black walnut or mahogany. She wasn’t even sure which it was but said these hardwoods had been popular in the early 1900’s. Though durable and beautiful they fell out of favor due to cost and that the wood, though strong, was affected by humidity.

This chair had a beautiful carved back and arms and spindles that connected the legs. Carved completely of the hardwood rather than a veneer, she advised I should never have the wood refinished because that would reduce the chair’s value. Her comments made me look at it with renewed reverence and a new curiosity.

Next time, I asked Mom a few more questions hoping to hear a poignant or funny story about the acquisition of this unusual piece. She waved her hand carelessly saying they’d gotten it at a rummage or garage sale. She knew it had been cheap. She and  Dad didn’t have much money and had furnished their entire house that way. I was well acquainted with my parent’s frugal ways so this wasn’t a surprise.

I dragged that chair to each of my many homes from Upper Michigan, the Milwaukee area, northwoods Wisconsin and finally to Wauwatosa. I had it reupholstered three times because it has a very wide seat; all it needed was that one slightly overweight person to plop into it and it sagged once again. A really good upholsterer finally made it look great.

Once all fixed up, I’d get comments from guests about its beauty and enjoyed the laughs when I told its story. Wanting to complete the tale, I searched all my old photo albums looking for a picture. Not just of the chair but one of my mother actually sitting in the pregnant chair. Optimally, my pregnant mother sitting in the pregnant chair.

Since I was the first child I had a very thick photo album and thought I had the best chance of finding that treasured picture. No luck.  Remember, I was brought up long before the time of I-phones and our current practice of taking pictures of everything including our lunch. Then I asked all my relatives. My five siblings and Mom’s five siblings. Most didn’t even have a recollection of the chair. So again, no luck.

For a while, I even had this crazy idea of hauling it to Mom’s home to take a picture of her sitting in her chair. And now that she’s gone, I sincerely wish I had. Though I have no childhood recollection of Mom sitting in that chair, I vividly recall her bouts of morning sickness that endured throughout each pregnancy.

Much later she surprised and saddened me, admitting she had only wanted two children. Mom’s contrariness to the social mores of the times didn’t make much of an impression when I mentioned this to my youngest sister, fifth in the birth order.

Today, when I look across my living room, I behold Mom, sitting with a cup of coffee, familiar grin and all, snuggled up by the window sitting in the pregnant chair. Her knitting bag is at her feet. Both Mom and the chair were taken for granted, overlooked and sometimes dismissed over the years only to have their value finally appreciated. Better late than never, I’d say.

The arms look worn where the stain has faded. The legs are nicked and scratched. It makes no difference what the chair cost, how unique the materials or how it came to be part of my family. Al I know is that it’s a priceless heirloom to me.

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