First Person: My Father’s Chairs

They were a keepsake of him, but it was time to move on.

By: Kristina Tatusko Henry

“It’s time,” I say, looking at the worn-out chairs. “You’re right,” says my husband, Mike.

Our house is freshly painted—the colors brighter, a much-needed renovation. But the Adirondack chairs that have been on the front porch for 20 years, a gift from my father, are another story. One is cracked; the other doesn’t have much life left. They were never comfortable, but they had character. When Dad died ten years ago, they became even more special—a reminder of the man who never met a deal he didn’t like.

Dad never met a person he didn’t like, either. A sandwich shop would open down the street and within no time he was on a first-name basis with the owner. To this day we’re amazed that he regularly got the French chef of a Washington restaurant to make liver pâté from the geese Dad shot and a Thai cook from another to make crispy fish from a rockfish he caught in the bay.

Dad’s philosophy was the more the merrier, and our house was a gathering place to watch a game, have a beer, or in the case of my brother and me, meet friends before going out. Impromptu meals were served, plans were altered—Dad didn’t want the party to end. When we joined him on one of his many fishing trips, nothing made him happier than watching us reel in a keeper. He seemed to enjoy our experience as much as or more than we did.

Odd, then, that gifts from him often perplexed us. When my brother needed a jacket for a ski trip, Dad bought him one—in robin’s-egg blue. Not exactly the fierce color a high-school football player envisioned for jumping moguls. During my Nadia Comaneci phase, Dad gave me a gym mat for my planned back handsprings and flips. Not much bigger than a bathmat, it hardly provided the padding needed between skull and hard surface. (It did, however, come in handy for fort-building.) My family had a Betamax while everyone else saw the future in VHS. Dad always made it seem we got the cooler thing. “Anyone can have a Schwinn,” he said about my new three-speed bike. “Not everyone can own a King.”

I can see him having lunch at his favorite Georgetown bar, Garrett’s, and placing an order for two Adirondack chairs, made by a lunchtime regular turned friend and bought at a great price. The chairs looked good, but sitting in them caused major back pain—the seats were near the ground and constructed at a sharp angle.

Mike and I carry the chairs to the alley. Often people drive through our neighborhood looking for freebies. I found a vintage planter, and a friend scored a nice side table. When we leave town the next day for a trip—ironically, to the Adirondacks—Mike remains convinced someone will take the chairs. Up north, we see the namesake chairs everywhere. I talk about buying red plastic versions to match our shutters. “We had Adirondack chairs,” Mike says. “Originals.” A few months later, we buy a pair of reproduction Arts and Crafts chairs from a 19th-century design. The seats are high, and sitting in them is a pleasure.

Then on a dog walk, I spot our old chairs in a neighbor’s yard. The woman is a yoga instructor (obviously with a strong back) and acts in community theater. She’s kind, chats with everyone, laughs a lot.

It’s said life isn’t about the stuff we get but the experiences we share. My family has shared more than a few as well as the quirky cargo that goes with them.

I look up at the moonlit sky and quietly say, “Thanks, Dad.”

Kristina Henry, the author of four children’s picture books, lives in Easton.

This article appears in the May 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.