The Sweetheart Chair

No matter where she moved or who she married that little chair had a place in her home. I had admired it for years and, although it was nothing special except that it belonged to her, I longed to have it. Bright pink corduroy, she called it a “Sweetheart Chair”. It was sort of heart-shaped on the back and I guess the color, pink, gave it its name.

Why I was so drawn to it, I can’t really say. I just was. Aunt Ann was like a second mother to me; full of advice, especially about men, relationships and marriage. Heaven knows she was fully schooled to give it having had four husbands of her own, two of which she just plain outlived.

She believed in marriage and it was quite obvious that when she was between husbands, she wasn’t happy. She loved taking care of her husband (and everyone else for that matter), waiting on them hand and foot, satisfying their every need.

God-fearing and a true servant to the Lord, she lived her life as an example of that and there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t draw from her unfaltering faith and her willingness to serve Him and others.

Pecan pies were her specialty and my Dad said she was as good a cook as my Grandmother (who, he would always add, was one of the best). If I needed a recipe for anything, it was her I called because she knew it by heart and even today I can fondly hear her say, “Well Honey, let me tell you what you need.”

Like my Grandmother, Aunt Ann never met a stranger and her home and her kitchen table were open to anyone and everyone. She made sure you never left without eating something, even at the very least, a piece of pie and coffee.

I guess that is why I wasn’t surprised by her answer when I mentioned the chair. “Aunt Ann,” I said while admiring it again, “if you ever decide to get rid of that chair, would you let me have first dibs?”

“Why sure, Honey”, she would say. Then, in a whisper, “You just come over sometime when Harry isn’t around, and I will just give it to you”.

I knew she feared Harry and what he would say or do if she gave something away, so I just accepted that. He was her fourth husband and at the time she met him she was well into her seventies and had all but given up on the idea of having a companion for the remainder of her life. Harry courted her with flowers and cards, gifts and affection and she was like a schoolgirl with her first crush. A retired fireman, he seemed perfect in every way and we were all thrilled when she announced their plans to marry.

But Harry was not the man she thought he was and the following nine years with him would prove to be a struggle and a challenge of faith, hope and love for even the most dedicated of Christians. In long conversations with her on the phone late at night, she would reveal to me the darkest and most troubling of stories about Harry and his bizarre behaviours. I knew she was afraid, afraid to stay and afraid to leave. We would talk for hours and I was always instructed by her, “Now Honey, don’t say anything to anyone, this is just between us, OK?”

As we grew closer, I learned to love and respect her more than I ever thought possible. She was so good to everyone, and no matter how much she was driven down by Harry, she would always rebound with a smile and a kind word. Although I feared for her safety and wellbeing, her dark secrets about Harry were mine and hers alone and out of love and faithfulness to her; I kept them to myself as she had asked.

October 12th of 1999 would prove to be one of the darkest days of my life when word came that she had died tragically and unexpectedly. My personal loss was unbearable. Gone was my mentor, my advisor, my counsellor and the one person who could light up my life with the sound of her voice. I was lost.

The months following her death would result in a total lack of communication and cooperation from Harry. He closed the doors and locked us out, denying us even the smallest of her possessions. Months later, after hopeless negotiations with Harry and as a last resort, her daughter Jan would hire an attorney to obtain a small list of personal items that belonged with our family and had been handed down through generations.

As my 50th birthday drew near and still grieving her loss, I dreaded it. Each special event in my life since her death just didn’t have the same enthusiasm and I knew not having her here to burst through the front door, carrying her pecan pies and calling out to me, “Honey, what can I do to help you?” would be yet another challenge to my faith in understanding why.

As I busied myself with preparations for the party my daughters were hosting for my 50th, the doorbell rang. Aunt Ann’s daughter, Jan and her husband Joe had dropped by to wish me a happy birthday and apologize for not being in town to attend the event the following day. We visited for several hours and caught up on family and friends, world events and local news. Joe excused himself and went unnoticed to his truck. A few moments later he returned carrying a rather large wrapped ‘gift’ that he carefully sat down at my feet. “What’s this?” I questioned. “It’s your birthday present. Open it up”, Jan coaxed.

Bewildered by the whole thing, I cautiously unwrapped the gift. I stood in total silence and amazement, my throat blocked by a huge emotional lump. There, at my feet, was that little pink Sweetheart Chair. I turned to my cousin, with tears in my eyes, unable to speak. As if she could read my mind she explained, “When I gave the lawyer my list of items I wanted from Mother’s house, I remembered the chair – the chair I knew Mother wanted you to have.” I had no idea she even knew of the discussions about the chair, much less that she would request it – for me! It was the perfect gift – and suddenly turning 50 never looked better to me.

To lighten the mood, Joe asked with enthusiasm, “Well, where do you want it?” I wiped my cheeks and instructed him, “Follow me, I have the perfect place for it”. He picked it up once again and followed me down the hallway to my room. As he sat it in the spot I selected, the wonderful memories I had of my conversations with Aunt Ann filled me with a warmth I had long forgotten since her death. Her very presence was there too. So there it sits, that little pink chair – the Sweetheart Chair, she called it – right there in my room and when I open my eyes in the morning, it is the first thing I look at and remember with great fondness my special Aunt Ann and I can almost hear her say, “Now Honey.”

By Linda Stallings

Meditation: The memory of the righteous is blessed, But the name of the wicked will rot. – Proverbs 10:7

You will succeed because Jesus loves You!

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