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Contemplating chairs though the years
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I got to thinking about chairs just the other night. I reckon it's because I've fallen into the routine, when I get home from work, of collecting some kind of snack and collapsing into a recliner in our den. From that perch I try to catch up on the news of the day on television, or watch whatever few moments remain of a sporting event from the "left coast." Increasingly, and despite my efforts to counter it, that recliner turns out to be the spot where I drift away to sleep, only to be awakened in that part of the morning which most folks never encounter when my wife's dog slips her cold, wet nose under my palm to let me know she needs to visit the back yard.

Many men of my age have to deal with early-morning visits to the restroom for various reasons related to aging, be it an enlarged prostate gland, or other stuff like that. Any old boy reading this can relate, I'm sure. But folks not familiar with that situation, or who don't have a dog which at odd times needs to explore the great out-of-doors, may not know that there is a four o'clock other than that of the mid-afternoon variety.

Now, this particular reclining chair in our den is one of a matched pair my lovely wife decided we absolutely had to have as we were preparing the house for our oldest child's wedding a few years back. I don't know why we do the things we do sometimes, but for some reason when our daughter's wedding was approaching we just had to have new furniture for the den, since that was where we expected to host most of our out-of-town guests.

Anyway, the mayor of our town, Sam Ramsey, who has been in the furniture business a lot longer than has he been in politics, found the perfect matched set of La-Z-Boy reclining chairs for us, and they've been in the den ever since. Now, the only problem I have with any recliner is that it is not prepared for my ever-increasing girth; thus I've learned not to kick, rapidly, all the way back to the fully reclined position lest the chair topple over backwards in response to the demands of gravity as espoused by the inimitable Sir Isaac Newton.

Just this Friday morning, I heard the coffee pot crank up. Well, that let me know that once again I'd fallen asleep in the mayor's recliner, 'cause I surely can't hear "Mr. Coffee" from our bedroom. I'd settled in to watch the last quarter of Arizona's upset victory over the football Ducks of Oregon, pretenders to the national title, you see. And although I'd not seen the end of that great upset, I'd gotten a good four hour nap in that La-Z-Boy once again.

Later this same morning, however, I settled into my very favorite chair with my first cup of coffee. The chair's a throwback, reminiscent of the famous Adirondack chairs, crafted locally by Rob Lansford. While serving as pastor of the Trinity Methodist Church in the Covington Mills district for many years, Rob and his wife, Patty, raised some great kids during the late 20th century here in Covington. Now a full time counselor, Rob also plays a wicked slide guitar and, just for kicks, crafts what he calls "the Covington chair" from recycled wood.

My family surprised me a few years back with a gift of a Rob Lansford "Covington chair," which he'd marked as the 27th he'd produced. It's on our back porch, and one of my favorite things to do is to sit in it early every morning with a steaming cup of coffee, while I watch the birds and squirrels frolic in our back yard.

Friday dawned crisp and cold. The sky turned from black to charcoal to Carolina blue, and as the sun made its way over the horizon and erased Orion, Taurus, and the Pleiades Cluster from the sky, it highlighted the colors left on the hardwoods as beautifully as I've ever seen it done.

And I got to thinking, as I sat there in my favorite chair, that one of the things our society misses most these days is the connection with chairs that, once upon a time, served to bring us all together.

I remember back in the 1960s when my parents had a few lawn chairs, which featured light aluminum frames strung with multi-colored strips of plastic. We'd sit out in the back yard in those cheap lawn chairs, under what were then 250-year-old pecan trees, and in the heat of the scorching Georgia summer evenings and sip lemonade or sweet tea. Sometimes we'd have an ice-cold Coca-Cola in a 6 1/2 ounce bottle and would pour in a pack of salted peanuts. And we'd sit there, sweating in the humidity, usually listening to Milo Hamilton broadcasting a Braves game on WSB-AM, and just talk about stuff.

Later, in the 1970s, my wife and I lived in a lovely old frame house in Metter. That chamber of commerce still claims that "things are better in Metter," and, indeed, some of our fondest memories still revolve around those years.

We had a wrap-around front porch, the ceiling of which was tongue-in-groove slats, and from which hung a porch swing. We arranged a few ladder-back chairs on the porch around that swing and used to sit out there in the years BC (before children) with our friends and relatives who would visit, and just talk about stuff.

As the years have hastened by, I've noticed a decrease in the number of chairs on folks' front porches. I've noticed that there aren't many chairs visible on front porches or back yards around town, and as the pace of life has increased to the frenetic, I've wondered why in the name of common sense we all don't put some chairs out on the porch, or on the lawn, and sit a spell and visit with our neighbors.

Later Friday afternoon, still thinking about chairs and the connection we have with them and the stuff that's important in life, I jumped in my daughter's Jeep and toured our town and most of Newton County. I drove through low income areas, middle income areas, and neighborhoods which house those who either have lots and lots of money, or else merely pretend to have it and make huge payments in order to keep up the pretence.

And I had an epiphany of sorts.

Folks who live in what our society would consider the humblest of dwellings have chairs out on the porch and in the yard. And as I drove through areas where some of the most financially successful live, I found chairs out in the most unexpected places.

Yet in the middle-class suburban areas, the neighborhoods where the rank-and-file hustling to move onward and upward live, there's a dearth of chairs. The houses are buttoned up tight as drums, with shuttered windows and little front porches strewn with dust, leaves and old newspapers. The folks who live there clearly use their carport entrances, and have no time to sit on their front porch to talk to anyone who might happen by on a stroll.

And I think, upon reflection, how much we've lost as a society as we've hastened to try and move in the fast lane with those who have been taught that possessions are the most important thing. I look at the very successful, and the very poor, and find that they have something very important in common: they take the time to sit and reflect and visit. The places where their chairs are indicate that they're grounded, that they spend time there - time that they know is important.

Those in the middle, those who want to prove that they're not poor and yet are not rich, have to hustle so much to keep up with the madding crowd that they have no time to sit and smell the roses, or to sip the coffee, or to enjoy the one and only precious gift we all have in common, which is time.

And all of that brings me back to my thoughts on chairs. They're for sitting, you see. And when you sit in a chair, especially if it's your very favorite chair, you feel more like yourself than maybe you do at any other time, ever.

And you don't spend time in that chair with someone of no consequence, do you? You don't invite mere acquaintances to share your most private inner sanctum. No, the time you spend in your favorite chair is your time, and it's special.

The thing I remember growing up that made our society so special in these parts was that we all had time for each other, and that we took time to be concerned about each other, and that one of the things emblematic of our concern was our chairs. They were inviting, welcoming, comforting, and let everyone know that we cared about them and their situation in life.

And I'm thinking, friend, that maybe one thing that would help us all right now would be to see more chairs out there on the porch, or in the yard. And maybe, just maybe, we could all sit down and have a Coke with some salted peanuts, and see if the world didn't get a little better along the way.

Nat Harwell is a Newton County resident whose column appears Sundays in The Covington News.