I’ve been invited over for lunch. The where and who is not important. But I will tell you that I’m in one of the older neighborhoods of Columbus. Mature trees. Sidewalks. Small front porches that frame the entrance to tidy brick homes. Architecturally interesting front doors and roof lines. Driveways made of two concrete paths with finely trimmed grass in the middle of the lane.
It would be easy to imagine that I have crossed through a time warp and somehow arrived in 1956. If the movie crew showed up to film a scene from Driving Miss Daisy, they would only need to swap out the cars parked along the street. Almost everything here tells a story of another era.
I am early. My host is not home from church yet. To avoid peaking inside through the front windows and thereby having the police show up, I decide to take a seat in one of the chairs on the front porch. A metal chair, circa 1950s.
I have plastic wicker chairs on my front porch, circa 2000. Got them on sale at the end of the summer at some place like Target. Thick foam cushions with a green foliage pattern in the fabric. I like the way they look. I also like the way they feel when I sit, but the cushions slide to the front edge. I’m always scooching my hind end back up in the seat to keep from sliding off onto the floor.
This metal chair is an unforgettable classic. The paint is smooth and cool to the touch. The seat and back both have a pattern punched out with holes that remind me of how a Chinese checkerboard feels. The arms and legs and base are made of one continuous piece of tubing that bends and curves and forms to the shape of the chair.
As I ease down, I can feel the chair give ever so slightly. The uninitiated might think of it as weak. That perhaps it is about to break. But, to me, it feels like an old friend who shows up unexpectedly. I put my weight in it and the past becomes familiar again. Just enough spring to its bounce that a fella could rock in the evening breeze, even though this is not a rocker.
Growing up we had metal lawn chairs in our back yard. It was a mixed collection. They all had the same kind of metal tubing and the same flex and feel as this chair. Two or three of them had wide metal slats for the seat and back. A couple of them had a clam shell back and solid metal seat formed to accept the human anatomy.
These chairs lived outside. They were never put away. Other than having to wipe the dew off the seat, or dump a little water off after a rain, they were always ready. The newspaper was read here. Ice cream was eaten here. Watermelon. Awkward conversations between father and son about the future.
These chairs witnessed the entire adventure of my early life.
Eventually, our metal chairs were set aside for the new aluminum folding chairs. Much lighter and easier to move around. The seat and backs were made from a nylon webbing and came in various gawd-awful colors, like aqua green and sea foam blue and pastel yellow. Colors reminiscent of painted house colors at the beach. And if a family took a notion, they could pack about a dozen of these aluminum folding chairs inside the boot of a Buick and head off to Panama City Beach.
We never thought of them as beach chairs, but they made the trip on several occasions. To me they were merely lawn chairs that served a dual purpose one week out the year.
One of the challenges with the aluminum chairs was that they could become airborne in a strong wind. The old metal chairs never moved. They withstood gale force winds and lawn mower collisions on a regular basis.
We hadn’t had the new chairs long when a good thunderstorm came along. One of the chairs ended up in the middle of our fig bush. Another got tangled up in the barbed wire fence. One was demolished by a limb that broke out of the pecan tree.
After that, every time we wanted to sit out in the backyard, we had to drag the folding chairs from a corner on the den porch, then put them all back when we were done. They’d be covered in spider webs and mud-dauber nests.
It wasn’t long and the webbing began to dry rot. An average size bottom would go right through the seat and leave a body in a compromising position.
Eventually, our den porch became like a lawn chair cemetery. Piles of discarded aluminum chairs that nobody wanted to fix. After Dad passed away and we were cleaning out the remnants of our life at that house, there was still one or two old aluminum frames hanging on a nail under the shed next to the smokehouse.
At some point, the lounge chair came along. This was a device my sister used for working on her tan. It was made of plastic tubing wound tight and pulled flat around the aluminum frame. Human skin would stick to the plastic, which made shifting positions nearly impossible. The center of gravity on this chair did not always align with my sister’s center of gravity. You get too far one direction, and you might find your feet and head in places they didn’t belong.
All of this comes back to me because I am unexpectedly sitting in a chair made to fit a man’s need, and evidently made to last for over 70 years.
My grandparents had several chairs just like this one at their house over in Social Circle. I’m pretty sure they had a two-seat glider, too. Might have been my Aunt Francis. I can’t be sure. Most any yard I knew had a set of chairs like this.
I was at a farm auction about ten years ago, and there was this metal two-seat glider sitting out in the middle of a cow pasture with a tag on it. It was a little rusty. Not bad. All the moving parts were there. Nothing missing that I could see.
It had the punch-hole pattern in the back and the seat. Shades of green shown through the dirt. Some accents in white. I sat and it glided smooth as silk. I regretted for months not buying that thing.
The only chairs I have now for sitting outside are the ones that collapse and store inside a fabric sack. No one will sit in those chairs 70 years from now. They are cheap and utterly forgettable.
I want a lawn chair with a soul. One my grandchildren will remember when they are old. A chair that, just by the touch and feel of it, stirs a flood of fond memories. I want a chair which cannot be destroyed by the relentless pressures of time, wind and lawnmowers.
And if my host doesn’t get here soon, I may just steal this one.