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Friday, March 18, 2005

The Old Chair

The Old Chair sits in the corner of the living room at the homestead on Tolend Road. The homestead where my heritage originates. The one my mother was brought to when she was a little girl. The one built on the land my great-grandfather gave to my grandparents. One piece of the parcel that he divvied out to all of his girls so that they could all raise their families together.

There are stories about Tolend Road that I've heard from time to time over the years. I'm not in any of them but I've heard them with the humor and inclusiveness that goes with knowing family. Some of the characters have nicknames like Brop or the Huz. Others speak tales of injury involving a radiator, a football game or a cat-of-nine-tails. Some include songs of old. Nonsensical tunes of Alice and the bathtub drain or the ones from the one true original homeland, Ireland.

My earliest memory of the Road starts when I was around 3 or 4 with a spilled bowl of popcorn made the old fashioned way and a Bruins hockey game. With the roar of the "crowd" my older sister sent it airborne and all over the living room in which the Old Chair sits. Other memories of Easter egg hunts, sledding, may-flower picking sit in that comfortable place of my upbringing. Memories of being surrounded by the Old Man and those that loved him.

Over the years, that Old Chair always held the Old Man. I think I have memories of different chairs over the years. Yeah, I'm pretty confident that at least one was a big ol' recliner but the image of the chair remains unchanged. It sat beside the little table with the little lamp. Eventually the little table also held the television remote, an Air Force coffee cup, reading glasses, the tv guide. Necessities of running the room from the chair.

I don't ever recall sitting alone in the Old Chair. Not before March 1st, 1996. Definitely not since. I guess I'm holding that Old Chair as a pseudo-shrine to the man that used to be. He was tall with wide shoulders and a strong chin, usually with a five o'clock shadow that he'd drag back and forth across our cheeks in a harsh yet loving hello whenever we arrived to see him.

In the nearly ten years since the Old Man sat in the Old chair, other members of the family have sat there. Unknowingly or more likely intentionally trying to be closer to the Old Man. Remembering, like I do, the prominence the Old Chair stood for. I haven't taken a seat yet and I don't know why. What am I holding out for? That the Old Man might actually come around the corner from the kitchen and kick me out of it? Not possible. Is it the feeling that no one will ever be able to fill the Old Chair, or our hearts, the way the Old Man did? My lack of acceptance of the void left in the Old Chair when the Old Man left goes on and on.

Yesterday, I was tasked to wash and spackle the walls of that living room. My aunts are going to repaint the room and give it a face lift for my Gram. As I made my way around the walls that used to surround the Old Man, especially the walls surrounding the Old Chair, I struggled. I found myself with a tightened chest. Its the same feeling I get whenever we visit and someone is sitting in the Old Man's Old Chair.

What was worse was the pile of pieces of the Old Chair stacked in the "back room". The pieces sat on the floor, disassembled and awaiting new fabric that will match the new paint in the old living room. The Old Chair will be put back together today. Updated and refurbished, but not replenished. No fabric, no paint, no time will ever refill the Old Chair without the Old Man.

He's missed so much in the days and years since he occupied the Old Chair. We've begun to expand the family he used to lead. A new generation of soon-to-be Old Men have joined us. Men who will never have known him except through the stories we tell and the example we set. The example he set. We believe he's guiding them still, from that place he now is. He guides us still too, but not in ways remotely the same.

The hope that gets me through the emptiness of the Old Chair now is the promise that the New Men who occasionally climb into the empty Old Chair will grow to be men much like him. Men of integrity, strength, perseverance, leadership, honesty, and compassion. Men that appreciate the beauty of the world around them in the animals and trees. Men that take the time to relax and enjoy life. Men that know the simplicity of the good that lies within the relationships of family. Proud men that make their mothers proud in who they are.

Only the Old Chair knows for sure.

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