I vividly remember the first time I realized we were different. Not a different race or religion or anything like that. No, we were different because of our mismatched furniture.
I was in the second grade, 8 years old, and I was having my first sleepover. My mom dropped me off at my friend Gracie’s house on Friday evening. We were supposed to have pizza with her family and then watch a movie. I had just taken a bite of my second slice of pepperoni when it suddenly hit me.
“All your chairs are the same!” I blurted out, my mouth full of melted cheese.
Four pairs of eyes stared at me like I had just sprouted green hair. Mrs. Morgan was the first to break the silence by asking, “What did you say, dear?”
“All your chairs are the same,” I repeated. “The chairs we’re sitting in. They all match.”
Again, the Martin family stared at me with confused expressions. “Of course they match,” Mrs. Morgan said. “The table and chairs are a set. They’re supposed to match.”
“Oh,” I said meekly. I decided to change the topic by asking what movie we were going to watch later. Then, hoping to deflect the attention off me, I took another bite of pizza and pretended to be extremely interested in the pattern of the tablecloth. Nobody brought up the chairs again, and I survived my first sleepover without further embarrassment.
When my mom picked me up the next morning, I waited until we got home before I mentioned the chairs. But as soon as I walked into the kitchen, I saw that yes, indeed, we were different. None of our chairs matched. Instead of a set of six, nicely matching chairs like the Morgans had, we had six chairs of differing heights, styles, and colors. I couldn’t believe that I had never noticed this before. I couldn’t believe that I hadn’t realized that this was, you know – weird.
My mom saw me quizzically staring at the kitchen table and asked what I was thinking about. “The chairs,” I answered. “How come they don’t match?”
“Match what?” she asked.
“Each other!” I said in a tone of voice that usually wasn’t tolerated at my house. “Aren’t chairs supposed to match each other?”
My mom told to me to sit down. I automatically chose my favorite chair -- the ladder-back one with the woven seat. My mom sat in the dark mahogany chair with the wrought iron legs. She folded her hands, sighed, and then asked what I thought of the Morgan’s chairs. I shrugged my shoulders and said they were nice.
My mom pressed on. “Okay, nice,” she said. “But what made them nice? What did they look like?” I didn’t know. I said they were brown, and they matched the table.
My mom said that yes, most people buy chairs and tables in a set and that yes, they usually match each other. She said there was nothing wrong with buying furniture that way. But then she posed this question: "Which one of these chairs is your favorite, Becca?"
That's easy, I thought. I told my mom that I was sitting in my favorite chair.
"Right,” she said. “That’s always been your favorite chair. That was a chair from your grandfather’s store.” My mom reminded me how I used to love going into Grandpa’s store and help him stock the shelves with merchandise. I’d forgotten that, since my Grandpa had retired several years ago and had sold the store. I didn’t realize that I loved this old chair because it reminded me of my grandfather.
“What about the other chairs?” I asked. “Where did they come from?”
One by one, my mother told me the story behind each chair at our table. The green chair was from the restaurant where my dad had proposed to my mom. Just before they got married, my dad went to the restaurant and asked if he could buy one of the chairs. He gave the chair to my mom as a wedding present. Smiling, my mom said the chair always reminds her of how much my daddy loves her.
Then my mom told me about the formal-looking armchair that had an embroidered seat cushion. My great-grandmother had made it. The design had red roses and green foliage and tiny, intricate swirls of gold in the background. She had needle pointed eight seat cushions, exactly the same, and they had been around her dining room table when my dad was growing up. When she died, all the surviving family members took a chair to remember her by. This was my dad’s favorite chair, and now I understood why.
When my mom had finished telling me the history behind all the other chairs, I realized that we weren’t different because our furniture didn’t match. In fact, I wouldn’t want a set of perfectly manufactured chairs like the Morgans had. Their furniture was pretty, but ours had character. Each of these chairs represented a piece of our family history, and that’s something you can’t buy in a store.