Sometimes memories only get better.
My daughter was moving into a condominium, downsizing from a larger home. I was helping, but mostly just keeping company and offering advice when asked. Both boys were settled and had already received many family “treasures” but the sorting process for what remained was still daunting.
“Do you think Arlene’s chair would look good here?” she asked. I had not heard that name used for the chair.
The upholstered Victorian piece my daughter was referring to had been in the family for more than 60 years by my count. It had survived many moves with us, and my guess is it had been in some ancestor’s home for another 60 years or more before my time. The back was about four ft. high with an ornate carved wood frame and deep red upholstery with an overlay gold design. The wood framed arms were smooth, and the chair was supported by a gently curved frame held up by four carved legs. I knew this chair well because it and its twin had been in our home for 40 years before our daughter fell heir. But the story began even earlier.
After being introduced to Barbara’s mother at my first visit to Bay City that chair would be the first place I sat and more important it would be where my vetting began.
Arlene (Mrs. H…of course) was a formidable lady, not in size, but definitely in demeanor. Barbara left the room for a moment after she introduced me to her mother and her father was not yet home from the jewelry store that was the family business. It was Arlene and me.
The living room where we sat was formal but comfortable. It looked like things had been placed a long time ago and considered just right so there was no reason to make any changes. At one end was a sun porch and at the other a stairway rose to the bedroom level. The only new thing about the house I would learn later was a first-floor master bedroom wing made necessary by a badly managed hip fracture that Arlene had suffered several years before.
Arlene (in my mind only were we on a first name basis) had brilliant white hair coifed perfectly and her dress was tasteful, near elegant on my scale. By her right side was the arm crutch she used to get around because her damaged leg was much shorter, and I expect painful when she moved it. Arlene sat elegantly and once situated it became clear events would come to her and for the moment that was me.
Behind her right shoulder was a large painting hanging over the fireplace. In it several fishermen and their wives were preparing to shove an open boat off the shore. I had decided on my own these were Portuguese fisherman. I would end up looking at that picture in my own home for 30 years along with the chair I was in but how could I know at the time. We talked for the five or maybe ten minutes while we were alone. I have no idea what was said but I must have received at least a passing grade on whatever test I had taken.
Later when I met Mr.H… he asked for no reason, “do you wear attached collars?” “Hmm”, I thought, funny question. On further reflection I suspect he was as uneasy with me as I was with Arlene. Later when I found he changed his collar for a fresher look the question had some basis, but not much.
I returned for several more visits and things were good with Arlene. This was especially so after I presented her with a tea kettle after I heard her say, “the jeweler’s wife and I don’t even have a decent tea kettle”.
When it came to Mr. H…, I might have won him over when I backed a two-wheel trailer up a long driveway to collect debris from a tree I chopped down for him. He was impressed!
It makes me happy to see Arlene’s chair used. It brings back memories. And when I heard my other daughter say she would be hanging the fisherman picture in her new dining room I knew the memories would only get better.
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