September 20, 2009

The Folding Chair

Filed under: Ann the Columnist:Essays — Ann @ 7:29 am

´╗┐Think of all the times in your life when you’ve sat on a folding chair. Under what circumstances. And what it felt like. They creak. They pinch and poke. As we get older, they’re never big enough. Some of us hang off the side. There are no arms, and so we don’t know what to do with ours — unless we’re holding fruit punch in one hand and a slice of white sheet cake with raspberry filling in the other. And where are we when we’re sitting in those chairs? Wedding receptions. School recitals. Living room baby showers. Church basements. Meeting halls. Synagogue classrooms. Thanksgiving with family.

These are the chairs in which we heard our child’s first school concert; the chairs we were warned by nervous mothers not to lean back in; the chairs we hauled out when company was coming; the chairs we were always borrowing and loaning. They fold up in a trunk, they stack, they rack, and they fit perfectly one under each arm. Sometimes they’re ugly greyish-brown metal, and sometimes they’re wooden with slats. Sometimes they’re a shiny basic black, and sometimes they’re painted white and decorated with bows. Often they sag in the middle from too many PTA luncheons. We can move them around from table to table, push them back, scoot them closer to our loved ones, turn them around and straddle them sitting backwards, and rearrange rows to our liking. There’s a familiarity about them which lends itself to such casual ownership.

Every day across the country, folding chairs are being set up and it always means the same thing: People gathering with a common interest. Each unfolding is an act of hope: let the attendance be good. (Those involved in community work, from fund-raising fashion shows to the annual spring chorale have no doubt heard the proud next-day report: “We had to set out more chairs!”)

Where there are folding chairs, there is togetherness and, usually, laughter. Children singing. People eating. Dancing, meeting, listening, talking, learning, marrying, unwrapping gifts. Community building and community mingling. All in circles or rows of metal chairs. We curse them when we should honor them. Archie Bunker’s chair in the Smithsonian? Nonsense. Instead there should be one perfect, squeaky, uncomfortable rubber-tipped, scarred ugly beige folding chair.

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