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The Chair

by Bettye W. Harwell

She sat most days in that chair on the porch. Like everything around, it never really seemed old. It must have been put there on that porch, in the same place by Grancy. Neither she nor the chair would have been young at the time.

It is placed to catch just enough sun and shade. Sitting there, you never get too hot to stopping shelling peas nor too cold to go inside. Each woman of the house shaped that chair. You could feel the tiny form of Grancy. Each generation a bit larger made its own form, blurring the harder edges under them. It took years to mold the seat to fit each larger bottom.

Sitting in the chair, you can, must look up to see the interstate. Its wall dead-ends the street so everybody who passes by speaks. Some come to the steps to look toward the chair. These are the gossipers, salesmen, mostly men with eager eyes. Not so often now, when they learn the girls are grown, living on their own.

The chair stays on the porch. It is smooth and dark, as are the women who sit there. Enough happens in front of them that the newsboy never stops. All the stories are shared more with chair than either lady. It’s like it has been in the same exact spot for over 100 years. One woman sits there as if she has become royalty and the chair is her throne. It will be hers as long as she is able to get up in the morning. 

And the chair now is occupied with the great-granddaughter. She stares over the railing of the porch. A few brown and near-brown children play in the hot, dusty street. It is summer and they come out early. Their parents are asleep. Most count on someone in the chair keeping them quiet. 

A few sharply dressed women head for the dead end which traps all on this street. A path through one unfenced yard is the only escape to the bus stop. Their stride, more plodding than teetering. Their good heels, carefully wrapped in tissue, lie next to their umbrella in oversize handbags. A few have only a shopping bag. These women work as house cleaners, child and health care workers. The factories closed years ago.

The only real sounds are from the flowing rush hour cars above the wall. It is mid-morning before the gawking-eyed men come to the steps with gossip. Who is sleeping with whom? Why the eighteen year old boy at the corner hasn’t been seen? He was in jail for a week before he died. Who is making, selling or using drugs? 

Nothing ruffles the mood in the chair. The rhythm of shelling peas never stops. The stories are always the same. But yesterday was different. Sirens, banging and speed on top of the wall just as sunlight faded. It changed everything. 

For once, the chair was empty for something other than chores or church. No one took her place. The siren and flashing lights lit up the air. A huge SUV tumbled side over side, front over back, end over end down the wall into the dead-end street. 

You could just see the top of a long truck. And parts of cars on top seemed caught in the concrete as the car descended the wall. It drew a crowd because no one ever knew what went right or wrong on top where cars raced at rush hour. In the crowd were the children. A few on bikes. A few mothers with toddlers quickly left the bloody scene. “Bedtime,” they said, gathering them close.

As always the gawking men had started the evening with a few drinks. They ran back and forth as a telegraph service. Women were coming back from work. At first, no one knew what to do. A man, the driver, got out easily. He seemed uneasy facing the crowd and hearing the sirens of police, fire and ambulance. This was going to be a new story.

“Get the chair,” she ordered one of the larger boys. The chair! It had never moved off its spot on the porch for over a hundred years.

Some one was needed to settle the man. Some one to decide what was needed. Others in the car had to be checked until an ambulance could come. It was amazing anyone survived. Then she said to a crowd, “Let us pray.” And they did. 

Suddenly the driver got up out of the chair, confessing his sins to her, sharing how it happened he found himself falling in a large SUV over a wall into their very laps. The police came first. The wrecker cleared most of the SUV except what remained on the wall. An ambulance arrived last. It got lost because ever since the interstate came, the street was an alley. All the people in the car rode out in the ambulance.

She took her chair. She put in its place on the porch as near as she could remember. Then she sat down, as someone always did. She was royalty and the chair was her throne.
Bettye W. Harwell, a 91 year old professional artist, writes when she cannot paint. Online, as “leartisteboots“, she shares her thoughts and poetry. Bettye is the great-niece of Yeoman (F) 3/C Carol Washington (Jetter), US Navy. Carol, one of the “Golden Fourteen”—the first fourteen African American women to serve officially in the armed forces in uniform—enlisted in 1918 and spent the remainder of World War I as a personnel clerk in the Navy Muster Office.
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