Remember the change chair? I don’t mean change as in, nothing stays the same, I mean change like the kind that has Abraham Lincoln’s face on the front, the color of sun on the Grand Canyon. Grandad moved that olive green, ugly recliner that up until that point no one liked, to find something one Friday night, when you found that penny. You oohed and ahhed over it and felt like you were the richest five-year-old on earth, admired it and showed it to Mom and Great-grandmother. You and your sister fought over it and neither one of you now remembers who won. The next week, you wanted to look under the chair again, and this time there were two coins. Each week afterward you told him to pull aside the chair to hunt for change, and it astounded you how much was under there. He remarked on how curious it was that all of his change fell out of his pocket, down through the side of the chair and underneath the wood and thick fabric and padding.
I don’t remember when you started calling it the “change chair”, but that’s what you all call it today. You spent hours looking for every shining coin, counted and divided it out, sorted dimes from quarters and pennies. You could barely read the tiny words on each one, and when his vision was bad enough he couldn’t read it for you, you asked Mom. You’d stuff your pockets, but as soon as you were home and could show Daddy what you had found in the chair that night, you lost it all.
I wonder now how much money over the years got lost by little hands wandering all over the house. It wasn’t until years later that you stopped to think about it, and realized that all of that change couldn’t have just slipped out of his deep pockets and found its way down to the carpet beneath. After he died, Mom imagined him stuffing all those coins down behind the cushions, and it made us all smile the best we could. It seemed funny then, that you were so gullible when you were little. But at the time, it was the most wonderful thing on earth- a chair that leaked change every week, and always seemed to produce an equal amount so that you and your sister didn’t have to complain about unequal shares in the treasure. Oh, once in a while there were scuffles, but once you were old enough to understand that a dime was worth more than three pennies, you felt a little smug as you held your ten coins and laughed at her as she prized each penny, delighting in the fact that she had more than you did. You knew what you had could buy you more if you were to feel inclined to spent it, (you never did- when it came to actually parting with the money, you couldn’t quite do it) and she was equally sure that having more in her hands meant she was the lucky one.
Why did it have to take you so long to realize that you were all the lucky ones, that you both had the money, but you had him, too? The money itself was never the magic. It was the person that loved you enough to want to hear your squeals of delight every week, enough to pour a small fortune into an old, uncomfortable, olive green chair, enough to let you climb on him and demand that he try and read “In God We Trust” on every single quarter you found, every single Friday evening.
I don’t even know what happened to those chairs, after he died and Great-grandmother moved to their daughter’s house. They were replaced with large, soft brown recliners that you could sink into, and the carpet was torn up and replaced with new, shorter stuff. It looked far better than the hard old chairs and tan shag carpet, but if you were to look under the new ones, all you would find would be a little patch of slightly brighter carpet. He doesn’t sit in the comfortable seat, and the magic is completely gone in their living room now. No one lives there, only an antique lamp that he never liked with a bulb that is continually burning until it fizzles out and must be replaced to make the house look a little less abandoned.
I always say it’s a game I’d like to play with my grandkids someday, add that element of magic to their lives, and see them be surprised over and over again by the same delights. But I know I never will- it’s a game that should be, and only will be, played with him. The easily pleased five-year-old is now fourteen, and it takes far too much to impress her.
I know we can’t really know what heaven will be like, and that things that seemed important here on earth won’t matter anymore. But when I see him again, if I can, I’d like to tell him thank you. I wouldn’t say that I know it was all just a game that I’ve figured it out now, that it was really just a silly form of make-believe all along. Sometimes you have to play along with a childish game if you really want magic.
(Sadly, I only have one picture of my Grandad in his house. No, I am not five years old in this picture ((I am five days old, actually)) and they aren’t sitting on the chair, nor is there any change present in this picture as far as I can tell, but it still makes me smile and felt kind of right for this memory.)