Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Grandpa Chair

In the sixteen years since he died, I haven't really delved into the stories that make up Don Miller, my grandfather. But I have sat in his chair. Constantly.

It's a 1986 La-Z Boy Reclina Rocker, purchased as a Christmas present for him by my parents at Landry's Furniture in Easthampton, Ma. It shipped on January 20th (I just tipped it upside-down and found the slip still tacked on). It's gold, it's corduroy, it's the world's greatest.

“He spent most of his waking moments when he wasn't out of the house in that recliner,” my grandma tells me. I'm glad to follow in his footsteps on this point.

“Nature's way to relax,” the company called it. We call it “The Grandpa Chair.”

I have two extant memories of my Grandpa Don. In the first, I'm telling him about Hank Gathers, the Loyola Marymount basketball star who died on-court in 1990 after an alley-oop. At seven, I was surprisingly knowledgeable about intercollegiate athletics, and I remember this conversation being the first in which I felt like a grown-up, involving death as it did. Sports and Geography are kids' stuff: The Red Sox and the capital of Arkansas. But death? I had hit the big-time.

My grandpa had heard of Gathers, “yes,” he said. He wasn't a very untalkative person I don't think, but I'm sorry to say I can't remember any other words of his besides the "yes." That night, my family played Trivial Pursuit. I was included and answered “milk” to some question or another. I sat on a white ottoman at his feet. My answer was not correct.

In the second memory, I am sitting in his chair, which I was usually cautioned not to do. I didn't understand why I couldn't sit in it. I only visited his house once a month, and it was so, so comfortable. My family didn't have a recliner, and the whole venture was such a luxury to me--the rocking, the ratcheting of the footrest, the adjustable back. It was also situated, in all its La-Z glory, next to an intense woodstove that over-heated me to the point of my absolute elation.

Of course, my Grandpa had pretty awful Rheumatoid Arthritis. He'd had to give up work as a contractor in his early fifties because he couldn't hold a hammer anymore. So I should have immediately vacated. I like to think he enjoyed me enough--because of the ultra-mature Hank Gathers talk, of course--to share it with me that day.

He walks into the room and takes a seat on the couch.

Cheers is on TV. Woody's trying to sneak into Kelly's room on a ladder the night before their wedding. It's Season 10, Episode 25--at least that's what I can figure. It aired on Thursday, May 14th, 1992. I wouldn't have been at my grandparents' house on a school night, so it must have been a summer re-run.

Yes, it was. I don't feel the heat from the woodstove!

I'm embarrassed because there might be kissing in the show. He's embarrassed because there might be kissing in the show. So he changes the channel.

It's the most utterly meaningless memory to have and it's ushered all the others straight out the window. There is one hug by his front door that's still there, sketchily. (I feel that memories from the early afternoon may not have as long a life-expectancy as others. I should research this.) Regardless, I cultivate the hug: my hip-level height his hands on my head. I didn't see him again after that.

Death, the big-time, meant that my grandpa belonged solidly to my childhood. I heard about his goneness in our living room--early afternoon, blank-white-paper February light--and I grew up. A few months later Leanna Barlow grabbed my arm while we were dissecting a shark at school and my eyes were opened to the world of women the way a baby learns to talk. Something had changed.

My other grandparents lived on, saw me awkward. And my feelings about them changed, too. Their aging was my adult concern. And some of the blanks of their lives got filled in for me. Meanwhile my grandpa stayed unchanged with his feet up; and a sliver of me stays with him when I lean back into childhood, eased by that old, gold, corduroy relic.


Jeff said...

Very nice.
And there, in the background, I see...the second-greatest chair, perhaps?

Dave said...

Yes, an excellent chair as well, Jeff. And someone left a baseball under the cushion!