From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

The Artist’s Chair

Friendship is one of the sweetest joys of life. Many might have failed beneath the bitterness of their trial had they not found a friend.

Charles H. Spurgeon

It looked just like an old chair discarded by the roadside along with the week’s trash. My dear friend and sister-in-law, Sue, who is an artist, announced, “That’s an antique. I’ve seen that chair in famous paintings. It’s an artist’s chair.”

And so we struggled, carrying it the six blocks toward home, each of us taking a side and holding on dearly. Finally, the white wooden chair with the slats in its back and the graceful circular arms was placed on my porch. Once removed from the trash that had surrounded it, the chair assumed a regal pose, as if it were meant to seat a king or queen. One could easily envision an artist like Sue capturing its majesty on canvas. I knew that was her intention.

We thought Sue would take the chair back with her to Maryland, four hours away, but the chair had other ideas. It would not fit in the backseat of the car. No matter how we tried, pushing and prodding, it refused to cooperate. The trunk, filled with suitcases from a family of four, was not an option. And neither was tying it to the top of the new car. “I guess I’ll have to leave it here until next time,” Sue muttered, casting a loving glance in its direction.

I waved good-bye and comfortably settled down in the artist’s chair. The next time, we faced the same car, the same problems. Too many suitcases, too many people. There was something about the way the arms curved that caused it to protrude in impossible directions. “We’ll take it another time,” Sue vowed. Again and again, we tried. Even with fewer suitcases or fewer travelers, the chair remained stubborn—always inches from our goal. It was as if it was determined to remain on my porch.

I had no objection to its decision. I had grown accustomed to doing my afternoon daydreaming there, and each day I looked forward to its delicate beauty. Of course, it didn’t hurt that it was the only chair noticed by anyone who walked onto my porch.

It remained there for one year, then two. Summer storms beat down upon it, and winter covered it with ice and heavy snow. The white artist’s chair withstood the harsh weather with a majesty unequaled by any other chair on the porch.

At the end of the second summer, I put an extra coat of white paint on my chair. That’s the way I thought of it now. So when Sue mused one day, “I wonder if I’ll ever get that chair to Maryland,” I thought it time to set the matter straight. Though I offered the words mixed with laughter, she could not mistake their meaning when I added, “You had your chance. It’s become my chair now. I just couldn’t part with it. It’s a member of my family.”

We did not speak of it further. I moved the chair inside the house in the third year. It remained in my living room, and later I moved it upstairs to the guest room, where I did my serious thinking. I placed a flowered pillow in its crevice, a plant to the right of it and a white pitcher to the left.

I convinced myself that it was content and safe and that it knew it had found a secure home. The room was sun filled and occasionally one cat or the other would curl on the pillow and fill the chair with purring. As the fifth year wore on, and I had every right to feel the chair was mine (for Sue never mentioned it again), I often noticed her long thoughtful glances whenever she looked in its direction. I assured myself it wasn’t my fault. The artist’s chair was where it chose to be.

Years later, when the chair had become a fixture in our home and I no longer thought of it as special, when all thoughts of an artist capturing its spirit had faded, Sue experienced a difficult time with the flu and viruses that hit her one after the other. She wasn’t at work in her art studio, and she didn’t want to talk about it, even to me. I, in turn, was frustrated with my work, unable to fasten on any long-term writing goals. I didn’t want to talk about that, either. Our deep relationship had been built on the writer and artist supporting each other. Our conversations grew shorter. The list of things we wouldn’t talk about grew longer.

One weekend, Sue’s children visited without their parents. All during their stay, I thought of my dear friend who had remained at home. I missed her and needed her friendship and realized I was letting it slip through my fingers.

I sat down on the artist’s chair to think about it, to think about the years that Sue and I had enjoyed supporting one another, always giving more, as if we had an endless supply of sharing. From where I sat, I could see the car my niece and nephew had driven to my house. It was a new car, a larger one. Forget it, I told myself. You can think of something else beside the chair to make Sue understand how you feel about her.

I drove to the bakery and bought half a dozen chocolate cupcakes (Sue’s favorite), four bran muffins and two dozen hard rolls. I took out the two vases I had discovered at a garage sale. I was saving them for her next visit. Often I would find pottery she could capture in her still-life paintings. I wrapped all the gifts carefully and placed them in the trunk of the car. But inside, deep inside where the truth often hides, I knew what I had to do and what I had to give.

“Remember,” I told my nephew, David, as he carried the artist’s chair down the long stairway. “If this doesn’t go in the backseat of the car easily, we don’t push, we don’t shove, we don’t force it.”

But I knew it would. Easily, gently, as if it were ready to say good-bye, to travel where it knew it belonged.

That night Sue called, her energy and excitement bursting through the telephone. “I can’t believe you gave me the chair,” she kept repeating. “I know how you love it. I promise I’ll take good care of it and love it just as much.” And then we talked about all the things we weren’t able to talk about before.

The chair is in Sue’s art studio in Maryland, and I shall probably never find another like it. But then again, I’ll never be able to duplicate the friendship I share with Sue.

Harriet May Savitz

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: The painting The Artist’s Chair, by my friend Susan Blatstein, has been in exhibits at The Woodmere Museum in Chestnut Hill, Pennsylvania, and at The Government House, Annapolis, Maryland. Susan Blatstein passed away in April 2000.]

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