Grandpa’s Wood Chairs

My dad’s gift gave us more than just a place to sit.

two willow chairsPhoto: Courtesy of Susie Lorch

When I was born, Dad began a home business making beautiful furniture from willow branches and alder. He designed and crafted thousands of tables, chairs, plant stands, love seats, picture frames and so many other amazing pieces through the years.

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He retired soon after I married. I’ve always felt a special attachment to this business, especially as a child, when I believed—as all children do—that the world revolved around me. The business and I were born at the same time, and I was sad that people wouldn’t be able to buy his creations.

A little more than 10 years later, I had two sons and was busy building a home and a life for our small family. Soon, we bought our first real home in the country and I began looking for furniture. No matter what I looked at, I couldn’t stop thinking about the comfort and beauty of Dad’s chairs. I wished my babies could have their own memories of watching Grandpa make furniture.

willow chair being builtPhoto: Courtesy of Susie Lorch

Then, early this year when our youngest, Ryan, was almost 4 and Talon was 5, I asked my dad to build a couple of chairs. Dad stays busy volunteering and maintaining the homestead, so I knew it would take some coordinating.

The day finally came, and as the boys and I took the long drive to Dad’s, I imagined how they would react to the whole idea. I explained it to them, but I wasn’t sure how much they understood. I wondered if maybe I should have waited until they were a little older so they’d remember, but I know how fragile life is.

When we finally arrived at my parents’ home, there was my dad in his old soft flannel shirt. He had laid out everything he needed for the project. I ran my hand across the tools on the work table. They were special, as my dad had made most of them and customized each for the job. The handles were polished from use, and his craftsmanship was evident everywhere. The workshop smelled exactly the way I remembered— a mix of sawdust and varnish.

I smiled when I saw the old radio with its wire antenna. I remembered how I sat on the steps of his shop and used my jackknife to strip the bark off the willow and alder scraps or carve a small block of wood while Dad listened to NPR. It was a very comfortable way to spend a warm summer afternoon. Of course, if I needed to discuss something with him, he was always ready to listen and offer solid advice. He would nod toward the old radio and say, “Unplug it.” I knew that I was loved and had his full attention.

Coming back to the present, I took care of the boys while Grandpa worked. It was a hot day and Ryan wasn’t quite sure what Grandpa was working on. He spent a lot of time in the house with Grandma. Talon, on the other hand, watched in his quiet way, taking it all in. As the first chair neared completion, I retrieved Ryan from the house, not wanting him to miss the memories. He ran his hand down the chair’s arm and said, “It’s a chair!” Grandpa’s artistry became magic for a new generation.

Grandpa building willow chairCourtesy of Susie Lorch

The chairs are now the focal point of our family room, and the boys love to look at them and at the many pictures I took that day. Maybe someday they will pick up one of Grandpa’s tools and remember what a glorious time it was.

This article was originally published in Country magazine. Click here to subscribe to Country.