Saturday, July 23, 2016

Grandma's Rocking Chair

Grandma’s rocking chair is one of my most cherished possessions, because my memories of her have always been of her sitting in that special chair.  I found the chair in my grandfather’s barn in 1973 and brought it home hoping it could be restored.  It was in bad shape, several spindles broken and the chair covered with that old black varnish often found on early 20th century furniture.   The first task of the restoration was to strip that old finish off.  Someone recommended that I talk with Sadie (an expert “stripper” of antique furniture here in our town) about how to remove the varnish in the tight places.  Sadie was willing to help me and to show me some of the tricks of her trade.  

With the rocking chair stripped of the old varnish, the next task was to restore the broken oak spindles. I talked with my friend Mort McCardell (a woodworker here in our town) and we searched his workshop for some similar oak pieces that might match the original spindles but we could find nothing. As we walked out of his workshop he spied his wife’s clothesline pole.  It was white oak, Mort said, just right if I could find someone with a lathe to turn that clothesline pole into the spindles I needed.  He recommended Paul.

Paul was a “jack-of-all-trades” in our town. He agreed to turn Mort’s wife’s clothesline pole on his lathe to furnish the three spindles I needed to repair Grandma’s rocking chair.  Looking at the chair today, you cannot tell any difference between spindles Paul turned and the original ones.  He volunteered to help me re-glue the chair—taking it apart piece by piece—and then putting it back together again.    

Now it was time to apply a finish of some sort on the chair.  Someone recommended that I talk with Merry Noel, who at the time, was re-finishing antique furniture.  She was happy to share a secret formula she had concocted and so it was that Grandma’s rocking chair was brought back to life.

At some point, some thirty years later, someone sat in the rocking chair and the curved arm of the chair split.  I took the chair to George (a new woodworker in our town).  George repaired the    arm with such finesse that one cannot even see the mend. This year some of the joints in the chair became loose, and again George came to the rescue, re-gluing every joint and bringing Grandma’s rocking chair back to life yet again.  

Yesterday morning I sat in Grandma’s rocking chair and thought not only of my grandmother,  but also of Sadie, Mort, Paul, Merry Noel and George, realizing that the rocking chair itself is not my most cherished possession after all.  I cherish more the memory of those who helped bring it to life again.

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