by J. Lee
Some things breathe, others just live. Sit down and enjoy the life of a chair.
|CONFESSIONS OF AN ANTIQUE CHAIR
Our lives have as much or as little life as we will give them. I could be breathing as much as I want, but that very act of breathing doesn't make me any more alive than the marbles on the floor in front of me, if that is all I am doing. Similarly, inanimate objects can have just as much life as the most active and involved person we know, should we give it to them.
My grandfather had life, and still has a life beyond his physical inexistence. Everything he did, silent as he was most times, he did with absolute love, and for reasons known to him alone. He loved to build. Dad told me a story describing Grandad’s project of making an old 19th century, Louis XV style chaise just before he got shipped off to war. Oak frame, leather upholstery. He poured his heart and soul into it.
After he was sent off to war, my grandmother would always rock Dad to sleep in that chair. It had its imperfections, but that was its personality — a little higher on the right side up the back than it was on the left; barely noticeable.
Months turned into years with Grandad still in the war; Grandma holding tight to their one and only child. The chair became a spot for story time when Dad got older. Stories of Grandad and his constant efforts to help others in every way he could. Also, stories she would make up for dad to laugh. When he smiled he looked just like Grandad, and this would calm her fears.
Letters came close to every day, speaking of how terrible it was to see his friends dying right before him, and how his strength maintained thinking of Grandma and Dad. My dad had the chance to read most of those letters, though when relaying them to me he noticed he actually knew little of his father’s life and upbringing. He truly knew only of the here and now.
My grandfather never spoke much; he was a man of action. His actions were kind, his demeanor calm. The last letter Grandma received was his wish that his son — my father — grow to be close with her, sharing a bond that transcends all the evils that can present themselves in his life. And this Dad formed, and held close to his heart for the rest of her life.
Shortly after that letter arrived, they received word that Grandad had been killed on the battlefield. Grandma was torn, however Dad kept his promise and the strength of their bond pulled them through what was to be a very hard time.
Countless nights, Grandma and Dad would sit up talking — Grandma in the chair, and dad on the floor. Dad said Grandma was very intelligent, possessing a compassion surpassing anyone he had met.
Years passed; Grandma aged quickly, but the chair remained solid, and a source of comfort. Dad held that as she sat in it, her face would lose years, adding a vibrancy and beauty beyond the exquisiteness she already adorned. His story would offer goosebumps as he told of the amazing presence felt when he would sit in the chair, imagining his father holding him as an infant.
Grandma died shortly after Dad met Mom. She had been sick for months, but held on to life, sitting in that chair. Dad said that she had to wait until he was safe in the arms of another woman before she could leave this world in peace, and did just that. Grandma died in her sleep, upright in the chair. Dad said she had the most serene features in her face when she died, making it easier for him to accept her passing.
After Grandma died, Dad sold the house; the only possessions he took with him were this old antique chair, and a picture of Grandma and Grandpa — memories of so much love. It sat in his house for two years before I was born, at the head of the kitchen table. No one sat in it at meal times as it had been reserved for the souls of my grandparents, that they may join their family every breakfast, lunch, and supper.
Soon after I was born, my mother would rock me to sleep in that chair. As I grew, Dad would sit me on his lap and read me stories from our choice of fairytales. I usually didn’t understand any of it; I certainly did understand the connection between us, and the love I felt through it.
Growing older, I found myself in that chair at nearly any chance. Doing homework, reading, watching television, or simply looking at the ground and thinking. It was so welcoming, and hard to leave.
When I moved out of Mom and Dad’s house and into my own, Dad sent the chair with me. He expressed how much comfort he drew from seeing how happy I was every time I sat on its cushioned seat. He made sure to tell me that Grandad would want me to have it, and cherish it as if it were Grandad himself. And so I did.
I had fancied writing in my teens, and started to do more of it in my early twenties. Mostly poetry, short stories — anything that touched me at the time I was writing. Some of my most incredible ideas came while I was in that chair. It was truly a muse to me; anywhere else I wrote that was not in this chair, my ideas were slow in forming — just dry conveyance of uninteresting nonsense.
I had a fond interest in antiques, and started collecting along the way. By thirty, I decided to open up a small antique museum down the street from my house. It attracted a variety of people from all walks of life.
One day, a beautiful young lady visited my museum. Her interest in everything was inspiring, and her wealth of knowledge in the very thing I had poured my life into was fantastic. Most of the people that came by the museum were more interested in the physical appearance of everything more so than the historical beauty.
Amy was her name. Pleasantly, I started seeing more of her over the next weeks and months. Having found many common values, we eventually ended up giving our love of history a chance to turn into something stronger. And to both of our curiosities, it turned out to be one hell of a time. Let me explain.
As we got closer, going from dating to ultimately husband and wife, we learned countless lessons. We would speak of coincidence, and synchronicity, as we experienced an abundance of this. One in particular, changed my life forever.
Amy’s grandfather took an instant liking to me. He would always refer to me as ‘the savior of his beloved granddaughter’. Before Amy and I had met, she had suffered immensely in an abusive relationship. After its end, she became very close with her grandfather. He was the one who began her interest in history and antiques.
He told me stories of his past, and even more of love. Not the love you find between husband and wife, but love found between man and life, and the existence of all beings. He was extremely deep, and quite articulate. He seemed to be able to see through any situation and tell you everything that was good or could be learned from it, no matter how harsh the events.
While we were still in the early stages of our relationship, he told me he was a veteran of the war. I told him at that point that he should stop by the museum some time as it had many items he may remember.
Not long afterwards, he and Amy did just that, on Valentine’s Day. He was looking around and taking an interest in various pictures, particularly the one of my grandparents which my father had given to me. He studied it with his whole soul, and tears welled in his eyes. I asked him the question that was to change the history of my family tree as I knew it.
“You know these people?”
He looked at me, smiling. Tears streamed down his face. “Who is this man to you?”
“That is my grandfather, I never got to know him, but he is still a big part of my life.”
“How is it that he is a big part of your life?”
I walked him over to the chair that now served as my office desk chair. “He built this chair while my father was still a baby, and the chair has been a constant source of everything I need. From peace, to inspiration; comfort, to solace. It means the world to me.”
He placed his hand on my shoulder. “I would like to tell you a story of the man in that picture, Private Thomas Reese. A man of so little words, and so much love. I was fighting in the war alongside him. We saw many of our friends fall, and held on to each other like mothers do their children.
“I would tell him stories of my family back in America, and how it would be an absolute honor to have a man of such integrity as your grandfather meet them, and share our lives together. He was the easiest person to talk to, yet he barely said a word. It was a silent comfort, a strong diligence. Complete selflessness leaked from his pores.
“Our platoon was on a mission to save the prisoners that had been captured over the last months. There was a long distance to travel, but your grandfather remained completely committed to easing us on through absolute terror. He had such a peace in his face, a calmness we all did not understand. This was war; how could he not be the least bit shaken? He told us that God was giving us a chance to offer these prisoners hope, and eventually freedom, saying it to be the righteous path.
"Shots came at us from many angles, and I was hit.” He showed me a scar to the right of his belly. “Your grandfather grabbed me, and dragged me to safety, much to his demise. As he took me into hiding — into safety — he was hit in the neck, falling right beside me. He dragged his body on top of mine with his last dying strength and whispered in my ear something I will never forget. ‘It is an honor dying trying to give others hope, rather than living a life where hope has already been killed’.
“Our platoon ended up succeeding in our mission, and the prisoners got to taste the very freedom your grandfather died for.” He reached into his pocket and handed me a medal. “I have carried this with me every day of my life since then, as protection from the nightmares of war. I have lived a life of hope, and I owe every breath to that great man, and I would like to pass this on to you.”
My eyes were drenched. My heart was racing. My pride was great. I saluted Amy’s grandfather, and told him that any friend of my grandfather’s was greatly welcomed with open arms. Amy and I grew very close from that point.
At our wedding, we chose her grandfather to be our best man, for there was none better than him that inspired our love. The rest of the story sort of mimics any love story or romance movie you would find on the shelves. Well, all except for maybe one thing.
I had decided to bind Grandad’s medal into his chair. I was going to sink it into the wooden back of the chair, but decided it would look nice sewn into the cushion in the seat. I was thinking of hiring an upholsterer, but decided it would be a nice project for Amy’s grandfather and me to work on together.
He decided it would be best to do this on the day of the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, November 11th, strangely enough. We framed the medal, and glued a Red, White, and Blue piece of cloth to the frame’s border, which we would then sew into a portion of the cushion we would cut out.
We argued kindheartedly over who was to be the one that would do the cutting, and who would do the sewing. After agreeing that my hands were more nimble to do the sewing, he commenced to cut out a patch of the leather we had marked in chalk. And then the chair began to breathe.
Underneath the leather, within the cushion, we found a note, and a small sealed bag of ashes. He looked at me, his eyes saying it is my note to read, and so I did.
“Time draws near now for me to leave. War cries are loud and I don’t know if I will return after I depart. So much of my life held quiet from my dear Estelle, not wanting to haunt her with troublesome stories of a child abused in so many ways. Nevertheless, if I do not return, I do not want these memories to go untold, I will not take them to my grave.
Troubling as this tale may be, they speak a silent wisdom of strength and forgiveness, through the loud voice of fear. If these words are read by someone who does not know me, it is my dying wish that they search out a member of my family, be it Estelle Reese, my son Thomas Reese, or any person down that line.
I am Private Thomas Reese Senior. I was born February 14th, 1890. My mother and father will remain nameless, as it is not my wish to soil their name with the acts of complete hatred I endured as a child.
There was considerable anger in my place of residence growing up. Any comment I would make became an ordeal I would put no human through. I was made to stay quiet at all times, as my father lived a life that I was not allowed to speak of to anyone. So long as I wasn’t speaking, his secret was safe.
I would watch him beat my mother half to death regularly. If I so much as whimpered — which I often would — I would be tied up to a wooden chair, with a cushioned leather seat, just as the one my nightmares resided in to now. I would be tied with a tightness that would numb the feeling in both of my arms and legs; for as long as it took my mother to regain consciousness — and by the end, strength — to untie me.
During this time my father would take my mother’s limp body and strip her clothes bare. Her body was branded with cigarette burns and patches scarred from boiling water that he would dump on her while she was unconscious. “Just in case she ain’t suffering enough when she wakes.” He would yell at the top of his lungs, “Is this what you want you little hood, see what you’ve done? Had you dried up, your mother wouldn’t have to be like this! Just a lifeless moll your mama is. You think you’re any better than your old man?”
My mom would come back to with agonizing screams that pierced my soul. By the end of her life — which I witnessed, once again, tied to the chair — she wasn’t even able to walk because of the deformities from the beatings. I was seven. The details of her death will be kept to my father and God, but the weeks that followed remained with me for the rest of my life.
I would have done anything to take my mother from that pain, that hell. I would have given my life for her to know her last day as a peaceful one; but I was completely helpless. All I could do was watch.
The next two weeks I spent tied up in this chair. My father would come home occasionally and hurl water in my face, “Are you thirsty you little prick?” His glare would pierce my eyes before mumbling a weak, “Deal with it.”
I survived off of the water that dripped near my mouth, and from sucking the water absorbed by my sleeve and collar. I had learned from previous episodes of being tied up to rub a few tablespoons of peanut butter under the shoulder of my shirt, which would provide protein if needed. My neck was quite long and flexible.
Then Dad never returned, and my shirt and face were dry. I was dehydrated. I struggled and fought to get out of the chair with all of my strength, for days to no avail. I did manage to loosen the right side frame, eventually lifting it enough to remove the rope.
I fed myself and gulped all of the water that my stomach would allow, and then drank more. I packed up what I could into a little knapsack and ran. I knew little of life outside my house, educated the small amount I was by Mother in her moments away from dad. I knew enough to find a church; at one point Mother said they could help me if ever needed.
Looking every direction in fear of Dad seeing me, seeking two large wooden sticks crossing each other in the sky. Behind trees and in and out of tall grass. Then there it was, and in I walked. I was greeted at once by the man who was to introduce me to a life less frightening, Father Rupert.
Seeing how pale I was, and making quick mention of it, he immediately took me in, bathed me, fed me, gave me my first comfortable bed to sleep in. Noticing I did not talk much, he began to pray over me, asking for me courage, and the Spirit of God to fill me. At this time I knew nothing of God, but the following years taught me different.
I never did share my troubles with that kind man, but I did learn that in helping others escape similar perils, my own troubles became distant, and easier to live with. I stayed with Father Rupert until I was sixteen. I attended all of his masses, dearly holding on to two passages which have stayed with me to this day. ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of Heaven’ and ‘Freely I give, as freely I receive.’
I met my sweet Estelle at the age of sixteen, and showed her nothing but love every second I have lived since then, receiving the exact same. I built this chair for her, so that she and my son — and in hope that my grandchildren too — may enjoy the same freedom I get to experience from this very symbol of my nightmares. The chair was built as my offering of forgiveness to a sick man; nothing more, and nothing less.
I love every soul with my whole heart, and wish for you comfort in a way that all living beings deserve. Built with love that you may sit down in peace, and rise up to glory. The ashes in the bag, giving it a softer cushion, are the burnt offerings of the precise chair I will never forget from my childhood.
Forgiveness was my escape into a new life, and I pray that through knowing this story, you may also know that no trouble is too deep to let it lock the cages of your mind, trapping you inside. Any situation presents itself the greatest chance to learn the grandest lessons of love.”
Private Thomas Reese, Sr.
I’ve read that note every day of my life since then. And I am in the chair now, reading it again, looking at marbles on the floor left there by my kids, whom I am so grateful for. What a life they have. What I life I have. What a life this chair has.