This originally appeared as one of my Practically Religion columns in Greenwich, Connecticut.
Mourning My Father Part Two: The French Chairs
by Jeff Grant
I prayed this morning. I got up early but instead of my usual early morning ritual of pot o’ coffee and a couple of hours of writing, I went to church. The chapel at the Second Congregational Church here in Greenwich is glorious, especially in the wee hours as daybreak first streams in. It reminds me that it is a holy place. Since my father died this past December, I feel lost. It is a strange and uncomfortable sensation, especially since my father and I were not especially close. The legacy he left is only first beginning to emerge. This morning I prayed for guidance and for healing; healing for me and for my family. I received a reply.
About twenty years ago, my ex and I were in Paris shopping in the flea market at Clignancourt when we happened upon the most beautiful chairs, in such interesting shapes and sizes. They were bent wood, art deco, and definitely not for everybody. They had been designed for a hotel in Barbados that had gone out of business. The dealer in Paris bought up the entire inventory of the hotel and shipped it back to be sold off piece by piece. My ex spotted one of her interior designer heroes, Rose Tarlow, and her entourage making a beeline for the chairs. Rose knew exactly what she wanted and ordered four of the chairs on the spot. I guess that was the tipping point for us because as soon as Rose completed her transaction, we bought two of the French Chairs and had them shipped to us back in the States.
The French Chairs were beautiful but were very uncomfortable, and we really never knew what to do with them. In truth, they were more like objets d’ art, or maybe huge doorstops, that we lugged around from home to home. When my ex and I split up, I guess it wasn’t much of a surprise that I got the French Chairs; after all in our baseball-card game of need it/got it… they came in close to last. Yet, even after I remarried and Lynn and I made a home here in Greenwich, the French Chairs sat majestically in our living room: a tribute to days and dreams gone by (and probably our inability to see the madness of dedicating thirty percent of our living space to chairs that we couldn’t possibly sit in). Nonetheless, they were a part of the family.
My daughter and her husband are presently selling their house in Greenwich, and are making their way up to the hinterlands of Fairfield. I called my daughter and told her that our time as custodians of the French Chairs was thus drawing to a close. Upon hearing about the availability of her beloved French Chairs, she waxed poetic and drove right over to pick them up. After all, to her these were way more than chairs; they contained the memories of her childhood and were markers of those nostalgic times (even if those times had to be spent on the floor in front of the chairs and not on the chairs themselves).
After the French Chairs had been safely passed on to the next generation, Lynn and I wasted no time in filling the void with a pair of Crate & Barrel upholstered chairs that we bought used at Consign It on Mason Street. It was nice to be able to finally use that side of our living room; we found out that we actually have a sliver-view of the Sound.
Today I am emailing a copy of this column to my entire family along an invitation to join me for dinner at my favorite restaurant on Thursday evening at 6pm. There are only two things on the agenda (although I admit these things usually take on a life of their own). The first is to pay tribute to my father, Stanley Grant. The second is to celebrate our family, in whatever shape and size, no matter how beautiful or uncomfortable, despite how much space we take up, no matter where we reside, or how much it makes us think about our yesterdays or our tomorrows. To sit and get to know each other as we are. To mend fences, make amends, and cherish the little time we have left together on this planet. To tell stories, laugh, shout, sing and listen to our hearts.
I miss my Dad and I wish he could be at dinner to join us. I waited too long to invite him. I won’t make the same mistake again.