Thursday, January 14, 2010
I sat in Dad's chair the other night. I wanted to do some reading away from the noise of the tv that Mom was watching in the other room, so went into the family room where his chair is, turned on the light next to it, and snuggled in. It was hard to concentrate on the book I was reading because it was the first time I sat in his chair since he died.
It's a brown leather recliner, nice and soft and cushy, and though it's only a few years old, I think, it's symbolic to me of all the "Dad's chairs" that have come before (like the rocking chair above). He's always had "his" chair...as children and as adults, we were allowed to sit in it UNLESS he was in the room. Everyone knew that when you sat in his chair, if he walked into the room, you were to get out of the chair. We knew without a word. Even as pain-in-the-ass teenagers, it never took more than his standing over us for a second or two to get us out.
The first "Dad's chair" I remember was dark green, I think. It was made of some coarse weave, and had mustard yellow leather cloth-napkin-sized pieces of material on the arms and across the top of the back. Sounds weird...must have been the 70s. You know, the days when avocado green was stylish. I can remember napping with Dad in that chair. I would lay on his belly -- perhaps I was 4 or so? -- and his breathing would fall into a regular rhythm as he entered sleep. With my tiny little body lying on his big belly (not yet the pop belly he had in the last years of his life, but he was 5'10" or so, so he was much larger than me, obviously), I would close my eyes, and try to match my breathing to his. Children breathe faster and more shallow than adults, so of course, I was never successful. I would strain to make it happen, though, because I felt so lucky to get to nap on him in that chair. I felt like my non-rhythmic breathing might wake him up and make him push me off his big warm body. And I loved it there.
When I was in elementary school, Dad used to wear black leather slip-on slippers in the evening. He would sit in his chair reading the newspaper or something for work with one leg across the other, his ankle resting on the opposite knee. If I was doing something I wasn't supposed to be doing, all he had to do was call my name, look me in the eye -- even from across the room -- and slowly, ever so slowly, reach down toward the slipper that was resting just past the opposite knee. I knew I better stop what I was doing or he was going to be up and out of his chair in seconds, introducing me to that slipper in a much more intimate way than I'd ever desire. I honestly don't remember him ever swatting me from that chair...but I sure remember the power of that simple movement toward the slipper. From his chair.
His feet are the source of another vivid memory of his chair. While watching tv or napping, he'd often recline all the way back in the chair, with his feet straight out and resting on the extended footrest. As a young child, of course, that just made them a target, right? I just wanted to walk by and touch them...swat 'em a little...tickle them. When I knew he was in a playful mood, his extended feet gave me the opportunity to "try on" some power similar to the power he had over me with those darned slippers. If I even pretended to be about to touch his toes in any way, well, he'd go nuts. "Don't you touch my feet!" he'd yell -- he couldn't STAND to have his feet touched. I'd giggle, and feign another swat, and he'd blow off a little more steam, and then go back to his tv watching, reading, or whatever.
As I grew older, I had a lot of serious talks with Dad while he was sitting in his chair. It might be over dinner, his plate on his lap, mine on a tv tray parked in front of the rocking chair I'd sit in near him, or while the tv was playing in the background. Mom was always nearby, either in a rocking loveseat just a few feet away from him or putzing around in the kitchen. He wasn't afraid to tell me what he really thought, and as I grew older, I became less and less afraid to share my real thoughts, too. It was never easy to disagree with him, but even when he completely pissed me off from that chair, I knew deep down that he respected my honesty and courage in speaking my mind.
He sometimes sat back in his chair and watched the goings-on of the rest of the family from afar. On holidays, for instance, he often left the dinner table first, and would park himself in his chair while the rest of us sat laughing and talking at the table long after the food was all cleared. For an extroverted man, he spent a lot of solitary time in his own home, and it was often from his chair. He read for pleasure there, read for work, watched tv, and wrote his speeches for the squad room, the classroom, and the board room, depending on which decade of his life it was. When I sat in his chair the other night, in fact, I noticed that the speech he gave in support of the Bridgeport Indian Colony at his last board meeting, the day before he died, is sitting on a tv tray next to his chair still. In his big, clear, handwriting. Right there. Just as though he just finished writing it. How I wish he would be adding to that pad. From his chair.
Many memories from the last 9 years are of Dad sitting in his chair enjoying his grandchildren. Whether they were in his lap, playing on the floor in front of him, or running around the dining room nearby, I can still see his eye rolls, smiles, surprise, and laughter at the various escapades of Abbey, Alyssa, Emma, and Lacey. Sometimes he was playful, but whether just watching or interacting, he was clearly proud of the family that he and Mom had grown together. I think he was often filled with awe and wonder that he gave us all he had -- and I'm so thankful my nieces were able to play on and near his chair as long as they did.
I last saw my dad on a Sunday just about two weeks before he died. I had come home for the weekend for a Mini Fishin' Mission. On my way out of town on Sunday, I stopped by Mom and Dad's to eat lunch with them and say goodbye. When I typically arrived at the house, I could almost always find Dad in his chair, napping, reading, or watching tv. He'd hear me come in, would holler "Who's there?," knowing darned well it was me, and I'd come around the corner from the kitchen and greet him with, "Hey, Pooper." I don't know exactly how I ended up calling him that through the years upon our greeting, but think it evolved from "Pops."
On this Sunday, though, I greeted Dad and Mom outside; they were spreading wood chips at the side of the house to keep the weeds down. They were both dirty and tired, and seemed happy for an excuse to take a break and go inside with me to eat lunch.
Dad sat in his chair. Mom sat on her rocking love seat. I sat on the rocking chair with my lunch on a tv tray in front of me. We talked about a variety of topics, including the fact that the Bridgeport Indian Colony had recently come to him in his role as county supervisor, asking for his support in helping them get land back that had been taken from them years before by the BLM. He said he was still studying the situation, but was fairly confident at that point that they had a right to that land. And he thought he would try to help them get it back. Like countless other times when I sat talking to him while he sat in that chair, that made me proud that he was my dad.
When I left, I went to him, as I always did, bent over him, kissed his forehead, gave him a hug, and told him I love him. He asked me when I'd be home again, told me to drive carefully, and told me he loved me, too.
My last memory of him living...sitting in his chair, watching me leave. And loving me.
I hope he saw me loving him, too...from his chair.