By John R. Greenwood
This story is about more than a chair. This simple little antique ladder-back contains a lifetime of family history, family friendship, and family memories. It has traveled around Saratoga County for its entire life. I don’t believe the chair was intended to be a family heirloom at first, but based on the journey it has taken since the 1960s that is what it has become.
This story was revitalized recently when I received a phone call from Judy (Atwell) Cleveland. Judy’s family lived adjacent to ours growing up in Greenfield Center. She called to tell me she had a chair that my parents had given her when they were downsizing to an apartment back in the early 2000s. She described it briefly and asked if I remembered the chair. At first, I didn’t, but as she described where it sat in the house I was finally able to visualize it. Because Judy knows I wax a little nostalgic, she thought I might like to keep the chair in the family. I knew my grandfather had refinished the chair and given it to my mother and father. He was a skilled antique furniture collector and refinisher and did dozens and dozens of pieces after he retired. What Judy told me that I didn’t know, was that my grandfather had also re-caned the seat himself. That is no simple task as you could imagine. As a kid growing up, it was just another chair against the wall in the living room. Now, with the additional knowledge of the seat, along with the fact that someone had taken such good care of a part of my family’s history, the chair began to take on an entirely different look. She told me the caning was very brittle so the only one allowed to sit in the chair for the last several years was a cherished Teddy Bear. I hope Teddy didn't commandeer Judy’s husband Ken’s recliner now that the ladder-back was gone.
I told Judy how grateful I was for her thoughtfulness and a few weeks later I stopped by to pick up the chair.
This is where the story really begins.
Judy and Ken live in Judy’s childhood home. The home I’d visited hundreds of times throughout my Wonder Years. The very minute Ken opened the back door I was flooded with a wave of fond memories. The stories told around their kitchen table. The beer induced pranks that our fathers played on one another. The laughter and good times that were generated in that house and neighborhood began to overwhelm me with emotion I couldn’t control. I could see my old backyard from the kitchen window, the grove of pine trees where I covered myself in pitch and boyhood joy. There just a few feet away was my old minibike trail that led to old friends that enriched my life. Out the other window stood two giant maples that hosted a neighborhood swing that seemed to swing so high you could touch the treetops. Just a few yards west was the old firehouse our fathers built and manned as volunteers for decades. The firehouse where I competed in a Pinewood Derby and received my first Merit Badge. The firehouse where my wife and I danced our first dance as husband and wife. The firehouse where I learned how to drive a firetruck and roll up a 2-inch canvas firehose. On the other side of the stone wall was the field where our fathers flooded the village skating rink late into the cold night and “The Hill” where toboggan runs lasted forever. The field where we sped around in old field cars was now a forest, but the sight of my friend Rick, rolling a Volkswagen Bug over and over with nothing but a lap belt and his Bell Motorcycle helmet on, was as clear as the smile on my face. The dirt path where I learned to peddle my first bike was right outside the door. The country store where I got my first cavity and cashed my first leaf raking paycheck. The store that had a wooden bench out front with my initials and a hundred others carved all over it. There was a time I knew every person, in every house, in every direction for a mile or more. Our old cabin that a handful of pre-teen boys built themselves, lay just out of sight, in the woods on the other side of the hill. The cabin where we played tag in a scotch-pine field, in the light of the moon, laughing until our sides hurt. The cabin where we hid stolen pumpkins and warm beer. The cabin where we told jokes, farted and watched old Shep singe his wagging tail on the fire-red wood stove. Vision upon vision came rolling over me like a freight train. As I tried to thank Ken and Judy for their kind gesture of returning that little ladder back chair I started to well up. I couldn’t stop, I tried. It wasn’t sadness, it was gratitude beyond the words. I was truly blessed with an unbelievable youth and life. The friends and experiences I’ve accumulated are priceless treasures. I can’t tell you how lucky I feel for having enjoyed the people and stories of small-town life. The chair, the gesture, the opening of that backdoor was a gift too large for words.
Thank you for the chair, the memories, and the time…