The chair that started it all.
Long ago, when we moved back to Ottawa from Mexico, we lived close to my Auntie Jean. She was my grandmother’s sister. She was perfect in her 5 foot frame, and navy blue pleated skirt with matching blazer and tam, her hair was always perfectly curled, and she always smelled like Chanel #5. She defined WASP, from her apartment filled with perfectly tufted Victorian furniture, to the antique tea service and silver trays. She had been a principal of several schools, when women rarely rose past the ranks of teacher. She was absolutely perfect in every way in my eyes. She and my Uncle George lived in a 3 bedroom apartment during the summer months, and then left for Florida for the cold months.
Sunday’s were important, we were dropped off at Auntie Jean’s and Uncle George’s for an afternoon swim, and tea. This was by far, my most favourite of days. After spending a couple of hours in the pool, learning to dive on the side and being instructed by my tall Uncle with his deep baritone English voice giving me clear instructions, and my Aunt sitting on the side in her fancy bathing cap, and skirting swimming attire clapping and cheering.
After exhaustion set in. We would go upstairs, change, and retire in the living room to a full afternoon tea. Even though my Mother had a full tea service and enough china in the house to have a dinner party for 100 people, she rarely took out the china when we lived in Ottawa, in fact, I never had tea at home, it was saved for my Auntie Jeans.
There it sat, this perfect, tiny little chair, polished and beautiful. It sat so elegantly beside the sofa, it was the perfect hight for my legs to touch the floor, and for me to cradle a tea-cup and sandwich. I felt regal at the age of 7, sitting on this ladies chair, drinking from a proper tea-cup. This was my chair.
For years, as we came in and out of Ottawa, that chair, was the only chair I ever sat on when visiting my Auntie Jean and Uncle George. The chair, became a symbol of my life. As I grew, the chair became increasingly uncomfortable. I persisted, I visited, drinking tea in the same cups, having more and more stilted conversations with a tired and worn out Aunt. I watched as she cared for my ailing Uncle after a massive stroke, that left him paralysed in a wheelchair. She persisted, and kept him at home. Her apartment, once a museum in its refined WASP beauty, began to look tired and weathered, unable to keep up with everything, chairs weren’t polished, or redone, they showed signs of age.
Soon, it became apparent, that my Uncle had little time, and my Aunt was unable to keep up. As I graduated highschool, she packed up her beloved apartment, and moved in with her daughter out West. I was heartbroken. The apartment, the chair, the channel number 5, was all gone. My life in Ottawa, which had never shifted, did.
She had told me once, when she was lucid in mind, told me what would be mine when she died. The lady’s chair would be mine.
I went on in life, losing a Father, another Great Aunt, my beloved childhood dog, and then, we found out, my Great Auntie Jean would be moved back to Ottawa, where her daughter would be moving too for work. My Great Aunt was moved to a home, and passed away 2 weeks after arriving back in Ottawa. I hadn’t seen her in years. I had felt guilty for not visiting, and not hugging her one last time, but those 5 years without her, I was lost in my own grief.
I went to my cousin’s house, and there was the chair, sitting and decaying. It made me sad. My cousin didn’t appreciate the beauty of the chair. In years to come, my cousin handed me that chair.
That chair has been everywhere, and has sat in every corner of every tiny place we have lived in, and kept decaying. I have searched high and low for someone who could restore it, had quotes back, but never did anything. The chair has sat decaying.
Then, like a huge lightbulb going off in my head. I sat there, staring at this chair. It was a symbol of a life I never actually wanted. I didn’t want to inherit things, nor did I want to hold onto things, I didn’t want to be WASP, I don’t ever want the life my Mother set out for me. I don’t want a house to be filled with relics that can not be sat on, or used. I wanted to live, and be filled with memories.
So, the chair was donated to Salvation Army. I said “goodbye”, and last night, I woke up, not feeling anxious, but happy. I am letting go of a life that I never wanted, and am embracing a life I want.