If you’re anything like me, you see an ad for a funeral parlor estate sale and say: SCORE!
But there is so much wrong with taking dead weight home with you, in furniture or otherwise. So bear with me while I explain how one little orange chair became the bane of my existence and started challenging everything I know about myself.
But first, the estate sale, in Salem, OR, where a century’s worth of death and grief was sold off one day last January to a throng of voracious vulture people. The place was dead by the time we got there around, but I know how these things work. I’m sure the estate sale team was hoping to have everything sold by the next mourning and most of the stuff was gone fast.With any kind of garage sale journey or estate sale hopping, patience and creativity pay off. You really have to urn it.
The wall-sized tapestries had angry SOLD signs on them, most of the funeral letterpress blocks were already gone, and the light fixtures had already been dismantled from the walls and ceilings. But this chair was still there, over in a corner with some stuff on it, and Adam said I cadaver. I’m sure I know what he was thinking. “If I let her walk away from this tangerine dream I widower, big time!”
But he also warned me:
It’s pretty smelly.
But I must have been in some kind of mood because I had to have it. There was no RIP in sight, and the color. The color! Do they even make that color anymore? The color locked me in, and I didn’t even smell the thing until we were headed back to McMinnville, the chair in the back of our Ford Escape.
From the back it swept towards me, just like in Scooby-Doo, at the point when the ghost is going to appear. How a smell so dead could be so alive in such a small space is a mystery to me. To paraphrase Thomas Hardy:
“The smell in the back was the deadest thing / alive enough to have strength to die.”
Okay, time to break out the Febreeze, I thought.
All puns aside, this has actually been happening a lot to me lately. Wake-the-dead awful smells. In fact, 2016 was the winter of bad smells. Ask me about the time I blamed our neighbor for the rankness in our backyard when it was really coming from our own compost. Or the time when our 6-year-old left a cup of hot chocolate in the backseat of my husband’s car, turning the Subaru into a Turkish bath of slightly sweetened rotten milk.
But while I could easily blame someone else for those particular scents, this chair was something I couldn’t fob off on someone else. I am taking ownership of this one. This is all me. This chair is what happens when, for a moment, you forget who you are and you make a decision based on the old you.
The old me liked watching episodes of Daria, thought dead baby jokes were funny, cried for at least 43 minutes when Nate died in the second-t0-last episode of Six Feet Under, secretly harbored a deep envy while reading Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, her memoir of growing up in a funeral parlor. I liked that person. Even if there was a profound lack of hope in the ideas I aligned myself to.
But there seems to be no room for darkness since I’ve turned 30. Every decision I make seems tailored to surround myself with light, and that includes the objects I have in my home. Since buying my first home and building a life there with my family I’ve started getting rid of everything that smacks of the dark. I want to feel like I am stepping into a pair of cupped hands when I come home.
So, the chair. Josh from Mighty Clean went at it while doing our carpets recently, and it sat in the garage all winter, stinking up my husband’s work space. When the sunny days returned in March we put it outside, where it sat — looking very good I might add — in the yard and aired out. I was able to machine-wash the seat cover. I let the kids attack it with Febreeze. When that didn’t work, we hand-washed it with soap and water and let it air out some more.
I wonder now, about people who leave couches on their porch. It is as if the feeling that couch engenders is so mixed — not being able to part with it, not willing to let its slow death happen inside.
The kids love the chair, by the way. They want nothing more than to sit on it and eat Popsicles.
The other day my friend Molly came over to visit. Molly’s home feels like cupped hands, mostly because she and her husband built it by hand (that’s so Oregon!). I really wanted to know what she thought, whether she was okay with the chair there in our circle, knowing its past. When I ask for reassurance I am really asking: Am I okay? Or am I nuts? Can you help me decide?
Molly said the chair is magic, that it has held people as they grieved for fifty years. That grief is beautiful, that we go to funeral parlors to honor and remember. I am starting to believe what she said, to think that what she said changed my attitude about the chair. I am questioning how I ever thought a chair this orange could be anything less than uplifting.
I am calling it the Good Grief Chair.