As the years passed and I became the generation that in my mind still belonged to my Mother and Father, one thing about holidays, reunions, and just plain visits became more and more vivid to me... the significance of empty chairs and the individuals who sat in them.
If someone were recently deceased that chair will remain empty the first Christmas or Thanksgiving. We all know they are gone... that they will not be there to occupy that certain chair, but no one wants to be the first to sit in it. That would be admitting they won't be coming back. When I was younger I felt it was almost a sign of disrespect to sit in that chair.
The second Christmas or holiday is a whole other ritual. At first the chair will remain empty, we look at it, walk past it, maybe even stand and stare at it, remembering. Then usually one of the adults will make the decision and sit down, just a minute. Then slowly the rest of the family will follow suit. No one staying for very long but all saying goodby by sitting in the chair.
Some chairs of course are much harder to sit in than others.
My Mother and Father's chair's still occupy the same place of honor beside the fireplace at the old home place. Right where they left them more than five years ago. Where they sat and held court for all those many years, all those days and evenings, passing out stories and advice and unconditional love to all of us. Any child knew that laps and arms and hearts were always open and available if you happened to need one or even all three at once, even if you weren't lucky enough to live there. To rest in, to laugh in, even to cry in. These were all purpose laps and arms, unconditionally available.
After the ritual of saying goodby to the occupants, these chairs, Daddy's, most especially, have become a haven to me. If I need advice I sit on the arm of his chair and I know what he would tell me if he were here. If I need a hug or a pat, if the world simply gets to be too much and I need somewhere to escape to, I sit in his chair and it is just like being in his lap. When I sit in my Mother's chair I can still hear her telling me the stories about when she was a little girl and about her mother and Dad and family that I always begged to hear.
My grandmother Perdue's chair was a little armless rocker with a flowered cushion. The cushion had a purpose other than making the seat softer. If you turned it up and tried to rock, the slick wooden seat would send you flying out on your little butt, especially if you had short legs like mine. After Grannie died I used to stand behind her chair and rock it with my eyes closed just to hear it squeak so it would seem like she was still there. It was a long time before I could sit in it.
Ashes from the fireplace had a tendency to collect on everything and Grannie didn't like dust so I tried to keep it dusted with the dust cloth soaked in Old English furniture polish but I used so much polish I think I made it worse.
Grandpa's chair sat on the right side of the fireplace beside the closet door where he kept his "medicine," It was straight, with a woven straw seat and back. Grandpa wasn't a rocker person. His chair had wide arms. Sometimes when he wasn't reading or dozing he'd let me sit on the arm and read to him or practice my numbers and letters. Grandpa chewed tobacco, and when Grannie wasn't looking he would spit in the fire, when she was, he spit in a can he kept under his chair. Funny, how chairs can resurrect memories.
When we all got together at home everyone had their favorite spot to sit or curl up, my sisters usually sat at the kitchen table or the living room couch, the boys on different chairs in the living room or on the front porch. My nieces and nephews grab a lap or sprawl on the floor according to their ages but sooner or later they too will find their special chair, as will the grandchildren.
As for me, I am going to be the one who does not leave a chair behind. I tend to lean over the back or sit on the arm as I chat or listen. If I do sit down it is only in passing. I roam from room to room, from group to group... watching... listening. I can stand in a doorway or behind a chair and listen to their voices and be many Christmases away, either in the pass or the future. So when I am not here, there will be no empty chair that will not be sat in. No chair to say goodby to. I will be the one they will remember looking over their shoulder smiling at them. The one they will glimpse in the doorway watching them. I will be the one they will feel roaming through the house stopping to give a hug, a kiss or a pat on the shoulder as I pass. But they will never have to tell me goodby...
I've always hated goodbys.