Empty chair

August 1st, 2007

Here’s a little charmer for you. This chair is up for grabs at my Saturday garage sale. My dad made it for Georgia when she was who knows how tiny. Dad is gone now. Georgia is no longer what you’d call tiny.

This is the kind of thing that many people carry along much farther than my towrope goes. And I know why. Just looking at it catches my breath. So much sentiment. In truth, far more sentiment than you can use. Dad was the kind of fellow who liked to tinker with the idea of family. He carved and tinkered and sanded and polished with the idea of us all, at his workbench 1,000 miles away, and then the two times a year he caught sight of us, he scowled over a crossword in his lounger until we went away again. I don’t fault him. I know too well the feeling.

So the chair came by parcel post, with an urgent letter before and an impatient phone call after, long before Georgia was old enough to sit in it. Oh later, I’m sure, she sat in it for a bit, but never for as long as we all held onto the idea of her sitting, the sweet, imagined picture of her sitting in a chair handmade by her grandpa. Her dolls have been sitting in it since.

This morning I picked it up and put it in the garage and snapped this picture on the way. I remembered a story about another empty chair.

When I was 16 I asked for a chair for my birthday. A little white rattan chair. Thirty-five years later I wonder just what kind of teenage girl I was, asking for a chair on my 16th birthday? (Oh yes, I was me. Of course I was looking for a place to sit.)

In my cramped family and my crowded house, I asked for my own place to perch, and I got it. That chair then followed me into dorm rooms and apartments, into my first marriage and its three successively larger houses where no one ever occupied it anymore. When all the reasons to keep that life going got up and left, I emptied the big house on Avalon Drive. I had a big garage sale and put the little chair out front. That day, a man paid me in crumpled bills, then hoisted the chair over his shoulder, and rode off with it on a bicycle! I watched it go, certain that by that evening, someone would be sitting in the little chair once more. I felt good, the best I’d felt in a very long time.

Like all ritual, all ceremony, the weeks you prepare for a garage sale deliver the real goods. When you open the closet doors, dive into the jumbled drawers, and stare down the gritty shelves; when you see the dust that you live with, it reminds you that all is dust.

Soon, some little one will sit in this chair. My heart brims with the good of it.


  1. Beautiful. I have realized in recent years how much the weight of my possessions wears me down — and how good it feels to let go of things that I no longer need, things I feel obligated to keep. A great weight is lifted when they go.

    Comment by Mary P Jones (MPJ) — August 1, 2007 @ 3:03 am

  2. It’s a beautiful chair. This may seem very un-Zen, but wouldn’t your daughter like to pass this chair on to her daughter one day? Especially as it was made by your late father?

    Comment by Tracy — August 1, 2007 @ 10:12 am

  3. I guess I’m always looking for a place to sit, too, because I’m a sucker for chairs. I’d eagerly pay $3 for that chair. : )

    I think taking pictures of our greatest possessions that we no longer need is a great, great way to memorialize them. In fact, I’m planning to do that with many of our things.

    Sometimes it’s just time to let go, even if it’s hard.

    Comment by Shawn — August 1, 2007 @ 10:46 am

  4. Ah, our dad’s were made of the same fabric: lovers of the IDEA of things, not to keen on actually showing up for the real thing. So, yes, I fully get why it comes that you can release this chair so freely.
    And I loved hearing of the chair you got when you were younger and how it truly gave you its gifts and saw you through lives and then when it was time, it was simply time. Nothing more. Nothing less. Beautiful.
    p.s. hope you garage sale is HUGE success.

    Comment by bella — August 1, 2007 @ 2:24 pm

  5. My little one has this exact same chair. Something iconic about it; I’m much fonder of it than she is.

    Comment by Mama Zen — August 3, 2007 @ 3:05 pm

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