Chairs and suitcases, letter to hometown friend


by Susan Hadden, copyright 2020

Dear Wayne,

Today I turned my kitchen into a project room to attend to things that have been awaiting repair in storage for ten years. It is ideal in that the fake brick pattern of the cheap vinyl floor forgives any cuts or drips, but it is unheated so I will need a bath to warm up after a day sitting on it.

I started with our family’s baby push sled. It, regrettably at the time, sat broken in my dad’s shop through my own kid’s childhoods. I can still hear the sound of cold snow compressing in squeaky crunches under my mom’s boots as she would push me along our street and alley, and probably yours, at night, dishes in the dishwasher, her chores done, passing under blue street lights with cheeks and toes too cold even with a wool plaid scarf and blanket tucked tightly. I can smell the wet wool and feel the ice on my eyelashes still. And I have those woolens.

That project has to wait for me to rip a new piece of maple and drill holes for the spindles and bolts that attach with wing nuts to the metal runners. The sled was a production design similar to popular runner sleds of the time, and better suited for looking good under a Christmas tree than hard use. It had been mended by Dad previously, with plywood and no reverence for original wood nor design. I glued what I could today and wrote instructions to myself for the next steps in case another long pause erases my memory of its status. I’ll need to borrow a table saw when the weather is warmer.

Next was a wooden chair I salvaged - nicely handmade of oak for sitting low to the floor. Someone routed out its original caning holes to do a set-in caned seat, and the wood failed at the cuts. It seems a first woodworking project for someone, perhaps from a high school woodshop class. I am adding thin oak planks I cut years ago in a girlfriend’s shop for this chair to its underside to get things glued back into position. I salvaged wooden strait chairs and a couple small tables through my marriage, if they were $20 or less, as their interesting variety and states of disrepair reminded me of people. After the marriage, I mended some of them with my kitty Pepper’s help while living in a basement room in Virginia. The musty room opened onto a bucolic pasture containing a pony and a heritage breed hog, making for a delightful workroom on my concrete stoop. [My sons] use those pieces now, but the complexity of this chair held up its resurrection. I intended, of course, to refill the holes and cane it, however, swore off caning when I restored the guideboat seat in 2013, so might do a set-in one or some other alternative since its MO was always “trial and error” - with apologies to any historic preservationist friends. We’ll see what calls after wood is mended.

Lastly I removed the insides of Mom’s calf skin luggage. Mildew and insects had taken up residence and the smell was overpowering. The cases were dead. The linings were heavy brown satin sewn to chip cardboard and glued to very thin wood inside, one of the two cases having sheets from a 1942 NY Daily newspaper as part of the lamination. I suspect she would have bought those with her own earnings from being a secretary since that date was three years after her high school graduation and still before her 1944 marriage, their post-depression luxury winning her heart and hard earned money. Or maybe her mom gave them to her in those years when they trained back to Illinois to visit Grandma Regina Brown, aunts and cousins. Either way it was a huge investment and she remained proud of those two suitcases which she used her entire life. It was hard to take a knife to the fabric, but they felt fresher as the project progressed. I will seal the inside with polyurethane, and I surveyed the fabric pieces in case sewing a new interior seems worthwhile. I set aside the Hershey kiss flag I found in the pocket, and for some odd reason one of the ripped scraps of cardboard I was sweeping up was a perfect one inch heart with stitching marks around it. There was no discernible heart shaped fabric piece in the linings, so maybe the anomaly was a gift to sooth my heart from cutting up her suitcase.

That’s today’s news! Chairs and suitcases, Susan Jayne

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