On October 31, 2016 I had just returned to my home in North Carolina after what could only be defined as the weirdest and most busy period of our lives. Our Pappy had died very suddenly in late September and my kids and I fled for the Mason Dixon within 24 hours of his passing. A week later one of our brothers was married. Three days after the wedding, my husband left for his fourth deployment. I had already scheduled a trip back to Pennsylvania weeks in advance – so the cousins could Trick or Treat together. We went back to Pennsylvania, yet again, though I had only been there what felt like a few days prior.
Finally, I was back in my house and getting settled in for a six month deployment. Then I received a text from our cousin just a few days later, via my sister, that our Grammi was likely not going to survive the weekend. Let alone the night. This wasn’t so sudden. Alzheimer’s plagues our Dad’s side of the family. We all saw the writing on the wall years before this. Her heart quickly began to give out. She passed within a few days – a few hours after my Dad arrived to say his goodbyes. I was back up to Pennsylvania and then over to Ohio for another funeral of a beloved grandparent – only four weeks and a few days after the first.
Hazel Mae came into the world on a spring day. We put her body into the ground on a cold, fall day. Funerals in my Dad’s side of the family are anything but sad. We know they are with Jesus, and to be distraught in their passing simply isn’t necessary. We absolutely miss them, we mourn them, but mourning quickly turns to gladness as we greet one another with long overdue hugs, passing around pictures, introducing second cousins, and listening to our favorite stories of their lives. As we stood graveside and said our final goodbyes next to her silvery, blue casket (so appropriate if you knew our Grammi) our great aunt began to sing the verses of Grammi’s favorite hymn. And at that point, the sinking reality that she was gone forever smacked us right in the face. The Domestic Four stood there, sobbing, whilst trying to sing. We were unsuccessful, so we let those warm tears hit our cheeks just as the sun crashed through the gray sky for the first time in 48 hours. Right there, in the cemetery directly across the street from her home, we stood on Holy Ground. I mean actual, Jesus was standing right there, Holy Ground. To this day it is the singular most beautiful sight I’ve ever seen. A cemetery, in bitter cold, covered in yellow leaves somehow became the warmest, most sacred place I’ve ever stood. Over and over in my head I kept saying, “O Death, where is your sting?”
Weeks, months, after her passing it was time to begin sorting through the little blue house on Windsor Road. The road that we spent a huge chunk of of our summers on. The little blue house that holds the majority of our childhood memories. The good ones. The ice cream sundae, playing cards, giggling cousins memories. Bikes that we rode around the cemetery, the very one she was buried in, still remained. Items were sifted through. Everyone began asking what we wanted. What did we want as a token of this woman who lived so largely for 83 years? What piece could we take from that home to remember an entire childhood of memories? I struggled. We all struggled. She wasn’t in the stuff.
I threw out a couple ideas, but then I recalled this little reddish brown chair that sat in her basement. A basic chair, nothing would stick out to you when you looked at it. But I remember pointing out that it was covered in little dents one day. Our Grammi rolled her eyes, let out an exasperated sigh and said, “Your father and uncle did that with BB guns. They set up their targets on it!” Now, our Dad and uncle TAXED their mother. Their entire life’s goal was to get her all fired up. You think you #boymoms have it hard? I could tell you some stories. Some horrifying, terrible tales that will make you believe every single one of your boys are borderline saints. I digress. I asked my Dad for the “BB Chair” because I loved that story.
He couldn’t figure out why I wanted it, but on the phone one day he told me the actual story of the BB Chair. While, yes, they did in fact shoot at targets on the chair, it was actually their Grandmother who set them all up. I chuckled, “Grandma Huffman just wanted you out of her hair!” He let out a laugh and confirmed it but said, “Life was just different then. We were all different. It was just a chair to her. She needed us to be entertained, sure, but we needed something to hold our targets. So she set us up with that.”
I teared up when he said “it was just a chair to her.” And every single day I look at this simple chair that four generations of hands have touched, and what was once a silly little story now has morphed into a symbol of something much more.
Things have grown and changed so much since the days of my father’s childhood. Our Great Grandmother probably really needed to peel some potatoes without the Terrible Two, John and Jerry, getting themselves into trouble. The thing though, she didn’t give a care toward that chair. She wasn’t at her wits end. She wasn’t frantic (I asked) and frustrated with them, looking for any means to get them to shut up. She simply grabbed a chair that was just a chair, and gave her grandsons a wonderful little memory to carry with them the rest of their lives.
Four generations later I’m sitting here looking at that chair, with tears in my eyes as I think about all of the times I’ve been frantic. When I’ve been flustered or overwhelmed and I reached for the TV or computer to keep them busy. But never once honest to goodness fun because they’re little and are only this little once. All of the times I lost my complete mind when my kids ate something on the couch and made a stain. The times that they picked my flowers from my flowerbed or pulled a tomato too early. My harsh response.
My care over things, and not people. My care over the Pinterest-worthy home, but not protection over their childhood.
It’s just a chair.
A chair, that somehow became one of the hardest lessons I’ve had to learn as a mother. But just as our Grammi and Grandma Huffman lived their lives, it was gentle. It was a subtle sort of lesson. It wasn’t harsh. It didn’t break my soul.
It lovingly sat there waiting for me to piece it together on my own.
Black coffee in hand.