Saturday, June 28, 2014


I imagine they’d had a time of it, getting then then-new leather chair up into the attic they rented in Glendale.  It was 1947 and Mom and Dad had just married.  Their combined incomes went into that chair and a used Chevy sedan for Mom.  Dad would continue to bike to his job at the post office.

I came along in 1952 and in about 1954 or 55, I imagine, I would crawl up on Dad’s lap in the big leather chair.  He’d set down his smoldering pipeful of Half ‘n’ Half (half Burleigh, half Bright, marketed by US Tobacco) and read “Make Way for the Ducklings,” my favorite book, or “If I Ran the Zoo,” my second favorite book because Dr. Seuss mentions my birthday in it. 

The leather chair was huge with ample room for the two of us and later, the two of us plus Ernie the beagle.  Countless times the pungent smell of the leather sent my head swirling and, along with Dad’s cadence, it was probably the last thing I sensed as a fell asleep.  Sometimes I’d be spirited off to bed and sometimes he’d slip out from under me I’d awake in the corner of his chestnut colored throne.

Time passed.  The family moved north.  I grew bigger.  Mom decided the old piece could use a freshening.  Frugally, she chose something known as Naugahyde.  Sticky.  Cold.  Sterile.  Lacking aroma.  Naugahyde.  Vinyl.  (But easy to wipe clean.)  In the 90s, Dad died.

By this time, I’d moved away – off building a career somewhere away from home.  Off with a family of my own.  Visiting the old homestead, I sought out the chair but never sat in it.  Not sure if that’s because it belonged to Dad and it wasn’t the same without him, or if the sterile glove of the artificial surface was off putting.

More time passed and Mom found herself liquidating some the family’s furnishings.  “Either of you boys want anything?”  I wanted the chair.  I don’t know why.  It was ugly, decrepit and – did I mention? – covered in vinyl.

I loaded the thing into the back of my pickup.

Up the road from my current house a few miles there is a furniture restoration place.  I’d visited and thought, perhaps I’d have them give it a look.

“Sure,” they said.  “We can do it up nice.”  I left with a claim slip.  On the way home, all the details about the chair that I hadn’t mentioned came to mind.  The pleats in the ends of the arms.  The rustic nails trimming the base.  The seven or so buttons securing tucks in the back.  They assured me they’d restore it, but I wasn’t sure to what.

After a time the call came in that the thing was done.  “We know you’re gonna love it.  We do.”  Then the person added, “Everyone on the staff likes to use it at break time.  It sits real nice.  You’ll see.”

Heart in my throat, thinking about Dad and ducklings and Dr. Seuss and the details I didn’t share, I arrived at the restorer.  They led me to the workroom, a workspace in the store partitioned by a bed sheet.  Staff gathered to see my face, they pulled back the curtain.


Gently, they loaded it into the truck, lovingly covering and tying it in.  With a subtle sense of loss, they bid Dad’s chair good-bye insisting I drive straight home to minimize it’s time in the sun.

It is evening now.  I’ve been in and out of the old piece a dozen times since I brought it in.  Something isn’t quite right.  Not the workmanship: that’s perfect.  Not the leather: it’s beautiful and smells just the way it did sixty years ago.  Maybe, if I got a copy of “Ducklings” and read it?  What if I found an old pipe, stuff it with some Half ‘n’ Half and smoked it?  I sat in the thing pondering and pondering some more.

Enters my wife: “That thing doesn’t look all that big to me,” she commented.  “You sure that’s the chair Grandpa Clayton put you to sleep in?”
I stood up this time sizing the piece up in the face of reality.   I guess it was never huge – after all, it had to fit into an attic in Glendale back in 1947.  But just the same, it is still perfect.


Make Way for the Ducklings.  Robert McCloskey. 1941

About Naugahyde:  (Yep, they’re still makin’ the stuff.)

The craftspeople who restored Dad’s chair?  Sipes Tahoe:  Located on I-80 in Newcastle, California, these folks offer an eclectic mix of antiques and collectable furniture along with an attention to detail that is rare to find and a joy to behold.  Check ‘em out at: and be sure to look at their restoration page.

© 2014
Church of the Open Road Press


On the 100th anniversary of the event that catapulted Europe into the Great War, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, it is fitting that we should remember that the world is still paying for the spoils of that conflict.  During the war, the great powers of Britain and France decided exactly who would get which parts of the Middle East after the assumed victory was assured.  As colonizers, they drew straight lines across a region rich with history, cultures and ethnicities those men with the straight edge and ink pens knew little or nothing about.

In Robert Kaplan’s book, The Revenge of Geography, we are reminded that peoples likely develop societies along courses of rivers and those societies are divided by ranges of mountains.  Rivers provided ancient trade routes while mountains were crossed with risk of peril. People of like mind and religious beliefs clustered in places that could be farmed of game harvested. Clashes over territory lay at the frontiers, rarely involving the engagement of large forces.

But the European colonizers took little of this into consideration.  Rather, they sought land, the resource wealth buried therein governed by a friendly leader.  The results were those straight lines clustering unlike tribes into unsustainable nations.

Today, modern western powers that should know better, continue to demand by force that those nations stand, while within many, a deadly struggle among those original tribal societies rages.  Sunni.  Shiite.  Kurd.  And a bunch of others.

The current crisis in Iraq (and Syria) is described as a militant band of terrorists bent on over-throwing a duly elected representative government.  The facts may be different.  The duly elected government may be little more than one group placed into power struggling to maintain its control by subjugating the others.  And we say, “C’mon, guys.  Try to work together.”  Implied is: Or we’ll take sides.

Violent and ugly as it is turning out to be, perhaps the disintegration of the nations erected with straight edge and quill during World War I is actually the reestablishment of the nations existing prior to Europe’s meddling there.

While my argument here is a gross simplification, Kaplan explains how geography wins time and time again when the quest for domination ignores the globe’s natural system of boundaries and bounty.

This is a technical read – more scholarly than I am used to – but one worth wading through if we are to have a better view of the hows and the whys of so many of the world’s current conflicts.


The Revenge of Geography : Robert D. Kaplan (Random House, 2012, $16.00)