The chair was making my husband sneeze, and he was threatening to put it out at the curb. Its burlap webbing had long ago given way, and straw was seeping out of the bottom onto the floor of the guest room where it had stood for many years. To save it from perdition, I promised to remove the straw. Otherwise, I ventured, it was a very old chair. Its needlepointed seat was dirty but in good condition. In my humble opinion it was worth being restored.
It was a simple side chair of a rustic type. Besides its padded seat, which was all caved in, its profile was slender. Scooping out its innards and taking off the tapestry would be easy, I thought.
I turned it over. The workmanship on the bottom was surprisingly elaborate, the materials holding the upholstery to the frame still strong, even obdurate.
The fine black muslin that had once covered the bottom was gone, except for a tiny ribbon of it around the perimeter where it had been nailed down. As I pulled it off, I marveled to see what looked like a leather thong laced through the wooden frame–it was tough and shiny. Later it occurred to me that it might be cane. But what was it for?
I concentrated on cutting away the scratchy stiff burlap, which exposed the many layers of stuffing beneath it–not just straw, which was abundant, but a dense wiry mass of stiff fibers that I concluded must be horsehair.
After pulling many handfuls of the fiber from the chair, I began to think that the chair’s innards were as voluminous and inexhaustible as what filled Mary Poppins’ valise. Beyond the unruly horsehair lay several more layers of burlap and horsehair, then a blanket of a spotlessly clean and creamy soft fabric–perhaps wool flannel–undyed, for it was exactly the color of a sheep. Beyond that was another layer of muslin.
Pulled back, these layers at last revealed the bright backside of the tapestry, which, however, was still affixed to the wood on all sides with an insanely dense line of stiff stubborn brads. I ripped out all the loose layers and threw them away.
Turning the chair right side up again, I struggled to remove just one of the rusty brads with a screwdriver and pliers. Meanwhile the rarity of the chair began to hit me. I mean, how many such chairs were likely left in the world? How many left, still possessing the integrity of workmanship this one had? Perhaps the chair I’d just pulled apart had been . . . the last. . .
The notion pricked my conscience. At heart, though, I’m not an antiquarian. Old materials will crumble; meanwhile, we can enjoy what is durable, keeping at bay the decay that is in all things. Despite my violent incursions, what is sound in this chair stands a good chance of surviving me.