This is my Great Uncle Dave's camping chair. He carried it to Dale Hollow Lake for almost fifty years, from when he first visited there in the late 1940s until shortly before his death in 1996. These types of chairs are still common at some funeral homes in the South but when I was growing up the elders in my family always took the lightweight and sturdy folding seats on camping trips, too. It is still solid as a pine knot and surprisingly comfortable. It folds up smoothly and hooks right across my shoulder for easy carrying. My Great Aunt Mildred gave this chair to me a few years after Uncle Dave passed away. She's gone now, too, like all of the real elders in my family.
My family only recently rose to solid middle class so we do not inherit expensive antique sideboards or wedding China patterns and silver. Our heirlooms are the smaller things: the dripolator (a stovetop coffee pot) my aunt used every day of her life, the churn that belonged to my great-grandmother, a pocketknife that my uncle used to whittle or cut twine or whatever else needed done. The things handed down in our families don't hold a lot of monetary value but contain plenty of pining. They won't fetch anything at auction but they sure conjure many memories. They're the stuff of family history.
I use this chair to sit by the creek and read now, every day when I have my tea around three or four in the afternoon, before I get back to work in the yard or on my writing or grading papers. I think of Uncle Dave every time I unfold it. The way he threw his head back to laugh. The stories he was always telling. I think of all of them: Aunt Sis, Uncle Sam, Uncle Silas, Uncle Bobby, Aunt Dot, Mamaw and Papaw Shepherd, Granny Mae, Aunt Jean, Uncle Ray, Uncle Red. Gone, gone. With them was taken thousands of tales. I managed to snatch some of my history from them in fits and starts, listening when they told their stories, asking questions, always pumping them for more.
In a couple weeks I'll be traveling back to Dale Hollow Lake, where my family has been going ever since Uncle Dave found those pristine waters and encouraged us all to go camping there every year. Just like I have done ever since Aunt Mildred gave it to me, I'll be taking his chair with me once again.