Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Junior Chair

At my grandparents' summer cottage, there was a smallish chair: larger than a high chair, but smaller than a regular chair and higher. The top front rung was worn in two spots where generations of small shoes had rested, or drummed impatiently, waiting while adults finished a meal before children could be excused. One of the arms wobbles.

In my family we called it the junior chair.

Sixty years ago, waiting for the first grandchild, my grandmother painted the chair a pale pink, with left over enamel after the bathroom was spruced up. Then she highlighted the features with red nail polish. Raspberry red.

She painted each name on the chair with the same polish over the next thirty years as they were born: first my cousins, children of my mother’s older brother Louie, then my mother’s three children from her first marriage, then my half sister, born when she could have been my own daughter.

The names painted in the same shade my grandmother’s nails always wore: Susie, Sandy, Kathy, Mark, Cindy, Melissa, then Emily.

Each of us spent at least a summer as resident in the chair, elevated above the crowd, seated at the table like adults, the edge of the table mid-belly where it should be. Younger ones sat on a lap, and older ones looked up over the rim of the round oak table their little butts too big for the chair. All of us with hungry eyes, waiting for the pancakes my grandmother cooked almost as fast as we could eat them, her red nails flashing as she scooped batter and rolled the eggy cakes like crepes. Swedish pancakes on summer days hot before dawn.

The paint is nearly all gone: the ash and oak of the chair visible now, along with a deep green paint from some other family, and small patches of the pink I remember surrounding the tub. And here and there, around a turned spindle and on the edge of the seat, my grandmother’s nail polish caresses Ben, my only son, young enough to be my grandchild, here in our new home.

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