I have two chairs at my table.

One chair was purchased at Home Depot two years ago and required some assembly.
The other I bought back in 1982 in a country store.

Striking out on my own and requiring some furniture for my student apartment, I went shopping for furniture with my Mom. We stopped in at a miscellany store in the lovely little village of Millbank, Ontario. We loved this village because there were cool shops, a bridge, a twist in the road, and also, incredibly, the hovering spirit of the Millbank Muse who could tell the future, as well as a charming old schoolhouse, and Anna Mae’s bakery where you could get the most heavenly cream puffs.

This sounds like fiction, but it’s true!

We bought a chair, a desk, and a really smelly summer sausage.

The sausage and the desk are long gone, but the chair remains.

The new Home Depot chair is made of a shiny faux-leather material. It’s smooth and stylish – something a man might buy because it’s serious looking, sleek and nicely designed, and it smells classy. But really, it’s a Potemkin chair – there’s not much substance behind that shiny veneer.

The old Millbank chair has survived all sorts of abuse, outdoors and in. The legs are turned in an artful, Victorian way and the whole thing is braced up with solid wood. It’s been shoring me up for over 30 years, and when I purchased it in that jumble shop, it was probably already 40 years old. It is still rock solid and has enthroned countless diners, partiers, singers, fiddlers and storytellers in its time.

The new chair is 2 years old and was a bargain at $40. The old chair is at least half a century on, and cost me 8 bucks back in my school days. Now the Home Depot chair is beginning to get wobbly. The seat has a nasty indentation and it kind of hurts to sit in it since it offers no support. The legs scratch the floor somethin’ awful, and I’m not sure how long it will last.

In the past I contemplated throwing out the Millbank chair, but it keeps looking back at me saying “I have supported you for 3 decades. You owe me.” And then I have to think. How many undergrad papers did I write with you as my solid supporter? How many friends feasted at my table with you as their pedestal? How many stories were told with you as the sounding board?

My two chairs make me think of many other things – some things that are wrought with care and craft; others that are quickly assembled without thought for the future. My forbears would have called it “workmanship” and I now know that is worth something.

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8 Responses to Two Chairs

  1. Leonard Ratzlaff says:

    Brilliantly written, Stephanie, just what I needed tonight; thanks!

  2. Bev says:

    This is so true. It certainly applies to organs too.
    Must tell you- we have dined at Auntie Mae’s (at least that is what our friends called it). Brought back some memories of our Ontario days.

  3. Richard Birney-Smith says:

    Truth spoken. Truth heard.

  4. Shirley Martin says:

    I have access to beautiful sturdy chairs at VERY reasonable prices at a UNIQUE shopping place. Inventory changes very quickly. You’d be helping not only yourself, but those less fortunate. If this sounds too good to be true, contact me.

  5. Brian Power says:

    The idea of the value of real ‘ workmanship’ resonates well with recent shockingly misguided decisions being made in Sackville, NB about historic university buildings being summarily leveled in the name of so-called progress. When I was last there, I was dismayed to see how much “strip mall'” was creeping into that beautiful campus. A crying shame! New is not always better, and some things are worth the cost of preservation, at the expense of that latest ‘smooth and stylish’ design.

  6. Nancy Pauls says:

    My “stuff” would not represent the latest décor trend or any trend for that matter. I have lived with much of it for years. Occasionally, I long for a trendier look. Your post has reminded me that workmanship and special connections are important. Our dining table, purchase by my mother-in- law from the banker family for whom she worked after immigrating to Canada, was my in-laws first table in their poplar log homestead in rural Saskatchewan. Made in Stratford ON, of solid quarter-sawn oak, it has survived hog butchering, kid’s games, kitchen prep. etc. It was moved back to Ontario in the back of a truck when the family moved to Ontario in 1950 and came to us eventually because my husband, being the oldest kid, was born on it under difficult circumstances. Oh yes, it has a major burn mark,by one of the banker’s maids, but Sidney Frey, an Old Order Mennonite furniture maker, who was making an oak buffet to go with the table, said “Ach, I would leave that. It chust adds character” And so we did! I could tell many stories about the mishmash of things we have acquired over nearly 50 years of marriage. This list would include: solid wood furniture and other beautiful items made by my husband; salvaged solid wood furniture from Indonesia and traditional hand carved furniture plus hand- knotted heirloom rugs from Pakistan, purchased from a Fair Trade Ten Thousand Villages store; 2 occasional chairs – a wedding gift to my parents from their bridal attendants; leather sofa and chair custom-made in Shepperton Uk for us to bring back to Canada in ’72. We could go into the tiny studio each week to watch the making of those pieces. Thanks, Stephanie, for reminding me why I treasure such things in the place I call home.

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