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Memory, Lost Time, and Tillie's Chair

July 25, 2018


Memory is a funny thing. Memories get lost in the wilderness inside us and all of a sudden, bang, something unexpectedly triggers a flood of memories we forgot we even had, linking our present with our past. Time ceases to behave in anything like a linear fashion. It's like getting swept into one of those wormholes I've heard about in Star Trek. Time, which seemed lost, is found again within memories. It makes me wonder what memory is. How are memories formed and how are they triggered by seemingly innocuous things like chairs. 



Yes, I said chairs. Well, one particular chair.



This is my grandmother Tillie's chair, or rather, it's one of the pair that used to be in her room when she moved from Florida to live with my family. I remember that there was a round wooden table in between the chairs with a beautiful crystal lamp on it. Above was a wall curio with nooks displaying colorful glass paperweights and porcelain roosters and other little ornaments. I remember how the light from the windows illuminated the fabric of the chairs by day and the lamplight at night, picking out the texture of the fabric and highlighting the rich colors of the fibers used to weave it.



These memories are followed in quick succession by other memories of my grandmother. I can remember getting dressed up to pick her up at Love Field Airport in Dallas and the way grandma used to hold my hand and pat it affectionately as we drove home. I remember having to stop by the liquor store to get beer, which she drank from a glass, and stuff for her to make her whiskey sours- or were they highballs? I remember covering metal hangers with crochet stitches and of crocheting beaded glass jar covers with her. I remember feeling loved and not feeling judged. 



And all of these memories, memories that I can feel intensely, were triggered a couple of mornings ago by seeing the light from my living room window illuminating Tillie's chair, picking out the texture of the fabric and highlighting the rich colors of the fibers used to weave it. As I edited these images it was like I was standing back in her room and sitting on my sofa in my home at the same time. It was as if time, time as I thought I knew it, didn't exist. Grandma was alive and I could feel her with me, holding my hand and patting it affectionately. At the same time, she was long dead and I thought I'd lost her forever. 



Grandma went into a nursing home when her dementia made it unsafe for her to be unsupervised and the chairs and the lamp and the curio and the ornaments were dispersed. I'm not even sure where most of them are now and it makes me sad that, at the time, I didn't have the resources or the foresight to snatch them all up and treasure them. All I have is her chair, the one that triggered this cascade of memories. It's threadbare and worn now but, to me, it's beyond beautiful just like I thought she was. I'm thankful to have it still in my life connecting me with the memories of a woman who was kind and nurturing and whom I love dearly.


© 2018 by Karen Opp James. All rights reserved.

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