In the far corner of my grandparents’ kitchen, beside the sunny window overlooking the backyard, stood my Grandpa’s chair. It was not your typical kitchen chair. Rather, it was what Grandma called “an easy chair,” with a comfortably stuffed seat and back cushions which rested in a simple oak frame. the wide, wooden arms had worn smooth over the years and the seat cushion sported a permanent depression. The upholstry fabric’s once brightly-colored floral desisgns had faded into gentlly worn watercolor hues of soft brown and beige.
Though the shoulders beneath the plaid flannel shirt were now slightly stooped and his slippers made shuffling noises on the worn linoleum floor, Grandpa was still an imposing figure. He stood nearly six feet tall, broad shouldered and big boned. Wonderfully thick iron grey hair crowned his head, and clear blue eyes peered out through his thick eyeglasses.
His chair awaited him like a throne. We grandchildren would jump up hastily from it if he entered the room, for this was his chair…from which he oversaw his small kitchen kingdom.
The rocker’s springs would creak in the stationary wooden base as Grandpa lowered his great bulk into the cushions. Slowly he would raise one and then the other of his long legs onto the hassock Grandma had gotten him from the Green Stamp Store.
In my mind, I can see so vividly the hands that rested on the arms of the old chair. They were large hands, wrinkled and worn, hands that had seen hard physical labor; and yet the long, tapered fingers were beautifully formed and sensistive. these hands had guided powerful draft horses who had pulled heavy wagons in the early years of Grandpa’s trucking business in turn-of-the-century Manhatten. Later these same hands had driven the big Mack trucks which sported jaunty metal bulldogs on the shiny hoods. the bold letters on the cabs’ doors stated simply and proudlu “Lehr and Lehr Trucking.” Grandpa’s strong hands and spirit, as well as his quick mind, had created and guided his thriving busisness. And now, after many active years, these same hands were learning to rest on the arms of Grandpa’s kitchen chair.
Beside the chair stood a small wooden cigar stand, complete with heavy amber glass ash tray and humidor. There was even a place for his mail on it, the opening of said mail had become a daily ritual executed precisely and neatly with his silver-colored letter opener. He worked the mail slowly and methodically as he did all of his chore, leaving no rough-edged envelopes or paper scraps on the floor. He would puff at his El Producto, then let it come to rest on the ash tray. The pungent scenttt of the cigar mingled with the pleasant aromas drifting from Grandma’s stove.
Within a few minutes of its delivery, Grandpa would be opening his daily newspaper as he reclined comfortably in his chair. Pages turned very slowly, since Grandpa read every word from front to back…and then his newspaper, crisp and unwrinkled, would be folded carefully and placed beside his chair. Grandpa enjoyed his U.S. News & Wworld Report, but he let his subscription lexpire because he had felt obliged to read each magazine from cover to cover…too time consuming. He loved to follow current events, to check how his stocks were doing in the Market, to cheer on the N.Y. Mets, and to staunchly and patriotically support he Republicans!
It was from Grandpa’s knee that sage and well thought out advice was given to anyone who would ask…and sometimes to those who hadn’t. He liked nothing better than a good heated debate but seldom would he be convinced to change his viewpoint.
To my little brother Stevie, Grandpa’s chair came alive each morning as a puppet theater, where Grandpa would play with Stevie and his stuffed animals for hour after hour. Through Grandpa, the toy monkeys talked, and lived exciting adventures, transporting Stevie to an imaginary world shared only by this little boy and his grandfather.
Grandpa was my mother’s rock–her strength and consolation when Stevie died at age five and a half.
Throughout my growing up years, promptly at three-thirty each afternoon, and still in my green school uniform, I bounded up the flight of stairs to the warmth of my grandparents’ kitchen. I know now that I was seeking a safe refuge. Somehow, over steaming cups of coffee and hearty German crumb cake, the everyday concerns and problems of a young girl growing up gained perspective. They gave unconditional love at a time when I most needed it.
From his chair, Grandpa tirelessly went over my homework with me, gave order and solutions to my mutilated math problems. His long fingers gripped the lead pencil that he had sharpened with his pen knife. Precise numbers appeared in neat rows on the notebook paper. He told me I could do it, and I did. I pass my math courses and he was proud.
Later, when dinner bubbled on the stove and Grandma was busy, Grandpa would take a small leather case from his pocket and unfasten the snap. His gnarled fingers would gently remove his rosary, the circlet of smooth, jet black prayer beads. eyes half closed in reverent concentration, his lips formed the words of his silent prayers.
Since my room was directly beneath my grandparents’ kitchen, I’d know how late Grandpa would stay up reading his newspaper. I would hear one foot and then the other slide from the hassock and touch down on the floor. Then the old easy chair would creak heavily as Grandpa’s hands pressed his weight down on the wooden armrests and he slowly raised himself up. I heard a few seconds’ pause during which he steadied himself, and then the soft sound of Grandpa’s slippers shuffling slowly and deliberately across the linoleum. The springs in the old chair stopped their squeaking…and in the darkened kitchen, silence came to rest upon Grandpa’s chair.