Wednesday, September 30, 2009

My Grandfather's Rocking Chair

One good thing that came out of last week's mad trip to Connecticut and back was that I returned home with my grandfather's rocking chair. I had in the past expressed interest in inheriting this rocking chair, and in a moment of generosity my aunt decided that it would travel home with me now. I had already inherited an ottoman from my grandparents, which now I'll keep together with the chair.

I have many memories of my grandfather sitting in this rocking chair. I remember siiting in it as a boy, too, when we would go to visit. The chair itself is probably around 150 years old, and it's still in good shape. The wood's a little dry, as the chair's been in de facto storage in Connecticut for some years.

What I know of the chair's history is this: When they had not been married very long, my mother's mother and father were given this chair, either by my grandmother's sister or her mother. It was already a family heirloom. At that time, my grandfather recaned the back of the chair, and my grandmother made the needlepoint seat cushion cover that it still on the chair. (I believe she also recovered the ottoman I mentioned above.) It's a spring-steel seat on the chair rather than a foam support seat. I know my grandfather recaned the chair at least two more times over the years; what's on there now is not caning he actually wove, as he had done before, but some of that newfangled premade caning that you cut and fit into place, which he did.

The chair itself is probably well over a hundred years old, I'm guessing at least 150, but I can't be absolutely sure. The steel springs in the cushion were the type I've seen used in Victorian furniture at the height of the Industrial Revolution. They may be a more modern replacement, put in when Grandma redid the cushion; so the entire cushion assembly may be new, meaning it's still circa the 1920s. The wood frame is definitely 150 or more years old, however; it's made out of hard fruitwood, dense and heavy with a very fine grain as is typical of fruitwoods, so the chair is sturdier than it looks. I don't know which variety of fruitwood was used, and there is a finishing stain on the wood that I don't want to mar or restore, partly because it's beautiful as is, and partly because one doesn't do such things to antiques. I am not an antique collector, I only have a few pieces inherited from my parents and grandparents which I keep because they're beautiful and because they contain many memories; but even I know not to "restore" antiques. Some of their beauty comes from having been lovingly used these many years.

Grandpa was a master carpenter, a builder, a contractor, and a foreman, in Muskegon, MI. (He was born north of the Arctic Circle in Norway, and came to the US while still young.) He was the foreman and his brother was the general contractor for building Our Savior's Lutheran Church in Muskegon, where my aunt and uncle were married.

Grandpa also built the two-story house on Dale St. in Muskegon where my mom and aunt grew up, and where my aunt was actually born. The house is still there, and looking good. (The upstairs floor was built as a separate apartment to be rented out; so even during the Great Depression they had some steady income from it.) I have lots of memories from my childhood of visiting my grandparents in this house; and its living room is where I remember the rocking chair always being placed. On an afternoon in summer, Grandpa would sit in the rocker, and even nap there, while we children played, or lay on the floor and drew pictures, or likewise napped. Often the radio would be tuned to classical music.

After he retired, my grandfather kept a workshop in the basement for the many crafts he took up as hobbies. He taught himself how to make candles, and later he taught me, when I was still a boy. He also taught me the basics of carpentry, and I now have his old handmade wooden toolbox, which he built for his construction work, and many of his tools. I have mounted his antique pull saw and scythe on my garage wall, as a display. Most of the tools in the toolbox are also old, but most are still in good working order.

I'm very happy to have Granpda's rocking chair in my own home, now. For the moment I'm keeping it in the living room, just to look at and enjoy. It's sitting next to my own modern rocking chair, which I sometimes sit in by the fireplace on cold winter nights.

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Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

I have nothing of my grandparents apart from a photograph of my maternal grandmother who I met once when I was maybe ten. I don't remember her name. My paternal grandfather was called John. He spent his last days in what I suppose one would call a doss house. I've never even seen a photograph of him. I couldn't tell you anything about the other two. I may have been told. I expect I asked questions as a kid but I don't remember anything. I still have my parents' birth certificates so I could find out a bit if I wanted to but I'm not even a little bit curious. My father-in-law is very interested in genealogy and has had Carrie do online research but her side of the family is so alien to me.

Neither of my parents had anything from their parents that might have been passed down to us kids, not a ring or a tie-pin or anything. So I suppose my lack of interest in my heritage began with them. But I'm glad you've got your chair. It's good when we can connect with things that are important to us. I have my father's writing bureau still. It doesn't go with anything in the flat but I wouldn't throw it out. And it'll be passed onto my daughter and I doubt she'll throw it out. Now she is the sentimental sort. She used to hang onto trash because she felt connected to it, bus tickets, anything. She's better now but not cured completely.

7:23 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Glad you have your grandfather's writing bureau. I use my grandmother's secretary desk as my laptop station.

I'm not very sentimental about any of these things, myself. And I'm very glad to have what I do have, more for the family history, and also because I just like the pieces myself. I appreciate fine carpentry a lot.

12:02 PM  

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