The day had come. Most of the other possessions from my mom’s estate had been distributed. The last item, saved to the end because of its special nature, was Grammy’s Chair. We came to an interesting conclusion on how to share this amazing piece of family history. This is still a rough draft, but it’s a beginning on sharing the story of our family. There are some references that will only apply to family, so if something doesn’t make sense, just call it a family inside joke. The memory is the thing.
Instructions: Preferably, this story should be read out loud while sitting in “Grammy’s Chair” with children and grandchildren gathered around. When finished, you should spend time talking about the furniture that you inherited.
The most valuable, the most precious currency recognized by the James-Hemingway family is memory. There are many pieces of furniture around the house that are part of the memories we hold so dear. The monetary value of the furniture will rise and fall, but the memories will only continue to appreciate. And thus it is with this chair: Grammy’s chair. You can buy a chair like this on eBay, probably in better physical condition, for somewhere between $150 and $200. But this chair is so much more valuable than anything you could buy on eBay or at Amazon because it’s the Fort Knox of family memories.
Every summer, our family made a pilgrimage to Indian Neck, Branford, Connecticut – the Shore – to see Grammy. We loaded up the Studebaker and left early in the morning. We always left early. I believe part of the reason is that our journey took us across Chicago traffic on the “Damn Ryan” expressway – known during rush hour as the parking lot of the damned. Our early departure allowed us to miss that traffic. We’d watch the sunrise as we headed toward the toll bridge into Indiana. Then the long trek would really begin as we drove across Indiana and Ohio. We occupied our time playing the license plate game – trying to spot license plates from all fifty states, or the alphabet sign game.
We’d make our way across those states, celebrating each time we passed a state line, and then, we got to Pennsylvania. Oh, how we loved the Pennsylvania Turnpike with the seven tunnels. Each tunnel we drove through was evidence that we were getting closer to Grammy’s house. If we were lucky, we’d stop along the way at a Howard Johnson’s and get a treat there. We’d leave Pennsylvania and hit New Jersey or New York until we finally got to Connecticut. The anticipation would grow as we passed the cities that led the way. We may not have known the cities in those other states, but we knew those cities in Connecticut that showed how much closer we were to Grammy’s house.
When we got to New Haven, we were finally able to begin smelling the salt air of the shore. Then, we’d take the exit to Branford and squeal as we passed familiar landmarks reminding us that we were closer to Grammy’s house. Then, Bud’s Bait Shop, where we bought lobster for that one night of magical eating each year, and the fork in the road loomed. We veered right and drove along the coast, windows open, smelling the fresh salt air. Finally, we arrived at Grammy’s house. She greeted us with her amazing smile and open arms of love. We were at one of our favorite places in the world.
Grammy sat in her chair on her screened in porch. We spent the nights there, talking, laughing, and making memories. Grammy held court as the family gathered together on the porch and caught up on the previous year. We’d talk late into the night. Well, the adults would because the kids would be banished to bed. We’d stay awake though, talking quietly and listening to the joy and laughter as the adults carried on the conversation late into the night.
It was from her chair that Grammy pulled my dad’s leg better than anyone else had. Dad had said something about naming Don after her husband, whom we never knew, and Grammy looked at him and said that she was sure that Don had been named after Donald Robinson – our cousin. Dad smiled and said again that Don had been named after the wonderful man she had married, and Grammy once again said that she was sure that he had been named after Donald Robinson. After a few more instances of give and take, Grammy looked at Dad and said, “Why Bob, Donald Robinson is a few years older than your Don, so he was named before your Don. That means your Don was named after Donald Robinson. Dad, who could pull a good joke on others, appreciated the humor. The grandkids had the opportunity to see that Grammy had a sense of mischief that we didn’t know about.
Maybe the chair inspired my dad’s sense of mischief, also. Dad was sitting in Grammy’s chair when the ladies were doing something else one night on the summer after Tim was born. I was showing him some of the pictures we had of Tim – it appears I may have been a bit of a proud father. Dad reached into his wallet and said, “And what about this one?” I looked at the picture and my jaw dropped. I looked back at the picture he showed me; I looked at the pictures I had of Tim; I looked at Tim; and I looked back at dad’s picture again. I shook my head in disbelief before I finally asked, “How did you get a picture of Tim in a dress?” He laughed and said that he had shown me a baby picture of Martha. Perhaps there was something in the chair that inspired such mischief
After Grammy Hemingway died, the chair became Grammy James’s chair. Until she was bedridden, it became the chair she sat in to eat, to greet visitors (and offer them an egg salad sandwich), to read, and to watch golf, tennis, the Black Hawks, the Bears, and, most of all, the Cubs. From that chair, Grammy’s chair, she welcomed her grandchildren into her home and told them the stories and passed on the memories of the Hemingways and the Jameses.
The story of Grammy’s chair is the story of our family and so, when Grammy James died none of us could bear the thought that the other siblings might not have this connection to the family. Its value is beyond measure because in this chair is enshrined the memories of the shore and the family. We will have this chair in our family for one year and then we’ll pass it on to one of the other James siblings. We’ll make our own memories as a family and add them to our part of the story of the chair and then allow other family members to add to their story. While each piece of furniture passed down as a sacred trust has its own story, nothing compares to the memories we all have with Grammy’s chair.
At this point in time, stories of the furniture inherited might be shared as well as family stories. In addition, I would expect each family member could add a story they remember about the chair – either privately with their family or for all of us. We would make sure that if we told stories added by others, we’d reference them so that we could reinforce the joy and the importance of family.