Lady’s Chair

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 and 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 deepĀ 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 my 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.

The Wall

He turned and said “Everything is different, Diplomacy will never be the same again.”

My Father and I were sitting on the couch, watching the one symbol that summed up my Father’s career. The Berlin Wall. I watched grainy footage of various long lost family members embracing, crying, laughing, reuniting after an excruciating separation by one wall. I didn’t understand the significance, but saw the emotion and the feeling of light and hope. In my Father’s eyes, I saw peace. He joined the Foreign Service at the hight of the cold war, he wanted peace in the world, and like everyone of his generation, diplomats played a major role in the Cold War, and the wheeling and dealing of information. I never learned about the Berlin wall at school, or its history, that I learned mostly from my Father.

In one day, I felt the shift of what was about to happen in the world politically, and it was a strange feeling, still being a child, and one of a parent who had grown up as a Royal Air Force kid, and then joining the ranks of the Canadian Diplomatic Corps. It was a shift that would drive a wedge between the old political structure, and the emerging new.

My Father had spent his early years helping with defections, one of which was of someone famous. He never discussed what he did, until that day, watching the wall come down. His stories spilled out, in an almost trance like voice, relieved that there was hope for peace, for reconciliation. Throughout those years, he had travelled everywhere, but never to the wall, almost like he didn’t want to, because of what he knew, and what he would be forced to remember.

During a fluke, my husband and I decided that we were at a crossroads in our careers, we were unhappy, and needed to find ourselves. So we planned a crazy 2 month trip to Europe with our then 1 year old. We were going to fly by the seat of our pants, and just see where life took us. In the middle of 2 months, we arrived in Berlin. There I was, faced with my Father’s past. It was meant to be.

We decided to walk a huge loop and see checkpoint Charlie (now a ridiculous tourist attraction, sorry, but it is), but do the full length of the wall. I can’t tell you how emotional it was, it felt surreal to be standing and touching a wall that my Father remembered vividly going up, and one in which he fought so hard to bring down diplomatically. I stood there, touching it, and wept. My husband didn’t really understand the deep significance for me, my diplomatic career had nothing to do with the Cold War, it was about terrorism, but there was a significance to that history, that connection that I felt with my Father, the history of both sides, and being able to understand it standing there, seeing it.

It was a moment that brought me peace with Foreign Affairs, for some reason, it was a turning point in my perspective, over the years, I couldn’t open myself up to what my Father’s generation represented, what they had to live through as diplomats, what they were trying to achieve. It was at that point, I finally understood what drove my Father to use his ability to use words as a weapon.

Dip Kid