Nearly two months ago, I stumbled upon an ad for a free broken chair.
The description read: “Bring this chair back to life. All the pieces are here to do so.”
It was tattered, and I knew I wanted it. For those who know me, they know I love old stuff. I get that from my mom, and she’s taught me that even junk can have a new life and be made into something cool again. I thought to myself, “Hmm, I could turn it into a prop for photo shoots or maybe a shelf, who knows.” For some reason, I wanted that old beat up chair. It just happened to be in a town on the way to my sister’s house, which I was headed to the next day. I replied to her ad to get it, thinking why not — it’s free.
I got a response from the gal saying, “It is actually at my Dad’s shop. We realized it's missing a leg, but you might still want it. Here is his number and you can call him tomorrow on your way and meet him there! He should be around.”
On my drive the next day, it almost slipped my mind about the broken chair. I somehow remembered about 5 miles away and decided the little bit of time it would take to go get it would be worth it. I might as well stop. I exited off the interstate and made my way into town. It was a little town I had not driven through before. I called the old man who picked up after a couple of rings.
“Hi. My name is Megan. I am calling about the free chair your daughter mentioned you had at your shop. Would now be a good time to stop by?”
“Oh, uh, yeah. I think I know what chair you are talking about. Do you know how to get here?"
“Great. Actually, I was not given an address. Could you give me directions by chance? I've actually never driven through this town before!”
“ Yeah, I can. I’ll just wait in my truck out front until you show up."
He proceeded to give me turn by turn directions. Of course I got confused and went the wrong way. He was very patient and even waited to hang up with me until I pulled up. We both chuckled on the phone when we realized I was parked behind him, and after what should have been a simple drive, I finally made it. ( I am the queen of messing up directions.)
I hung up the phone and got out of my car. He stepped out of an old pickup that reminded me of the old Chevy my dad used to drive around when I was a kid. I was greeted by an old man with a sweet smile. He probably stood only a few inches taller than me. My guess is he was probably in his late 80s. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. He had a strong handshake, and wrinkled, tanned hands you knew had a lifetime of hard work behind them.
“So the chair you are wanting is back in the shop. You can come in if you like.”
I followed him through the door. It was a big machine shop, filled with old cars, tools, welding items and what looked like a lifetime of his projects. It smelled like a mix of grease and rust, with old lights buzzing atop the ceiling. The sunlight streamed through, and I could see years of dust had settled upon things throughout the room. I could picture the sheds my grandpa and my dad used to keep all their tools and projects in. It was comforting how similar it felt.
“This shop reminds me a lot of what my dad’s was like. It even smells the same,” I said to him, as those old memories filled my head.
He chuckled. “It’s sort of a mess. My kids are trying to get me to clean it out.”
He went around the corner and came back with the old wooden chair, split down the middle and covered in dust. My heart jumped. It was cool. I could make it into something great again.
He looked at it with doubt. “I’m not sure if you can do much with it. There is a leg missing I still can’t find. I don't know what would make you want this old thing, but you can have it. ”
“I already have a few ideas,” I told him with a big smile on my face.
He asked what my plans were with it. I told him about my business and how I hoped to use it as a prop for photographing kids. I showed him an idea on my phone. “You think you can make this old chair look that good again?” he chuckled. “I sure plan to try,” I said with a smile across my face. I discussed my love for junk and told him about the farmhouse I soon would be moving into. He began to show me old items in his shop that had been there for years.
I asked him about his family, and he told me he recently had lost his wife. I could see the heartbreak come over him quickly, knowing he didn’t talk about it often.
“Some days it still doesn’t feel real. I honestly miss her all the time. She left me so suddenly."
He tried to speak through tears. I couldn't hold back from crying if I tried. I wiped away my tears and let him know how sorry I was for his loss. Inside, I knew a bit of that same familiar sting of grief. We stood in silence for a bit, and he went on to tell me more stories, and soon enough that smile came back.
We talked about his wife more and shared with me how kind she was. She sounded like such a special person. I could tell it must have been an overwhelming heartache he battled daily. He told me about his children and grandkids and talked about them with pride. His kids and grandchildren were spread across the country. He was the only one from the family still living in the little town. He mentioned he didn’t get to see them as often as he had liked to, but they had busy lives and he understood, but he enjoyed their phone calls. They always checked in.
He moved along to the next big room of the shop, and showed me all sorts of neat things. The entire place was filled with cool old junk. I was loving every minute of it. He showed me some of his old projects, and he pointed out an old boat. “This old boat is actually my brother’s, but it has been a good project of ours.” He said he had one brother who was not doing very well, and he was headed to pick him up and take him on a road trip to visit their other brother. If I recall, he said they would spend most of the time fishing. He chuckled as he told me, and said it was probably the last trip the three of them would ever take together with their ages, and he was looking forward to it. He told me about all their plans, and talked with a shimmer in his eyes. He was headed home to pack later that day. I could tell they must be ornery when they all get together, and he laughed and told me more stories of all of them growing up.
Our little conversation was a sweet reminder of how my own dad used to tell stories. Sometimes my dad would tell the same story over and over, but I still loved to hear them. He had passed away at the end of 2015 unexpectedly at only 57, and that was one of the things I missed about him the most — when his eyes would light up with the thought of a familiar old memory to share. He would laugh along as he reminisced. Man, I missed those little moments with him so much.
That morning, in an old machine shop in a small Kansas town, I let life slow down for a bit and just listened. I heard about the old man's youth, his adventures with his brothers, his family and his late wife. Stories I could tell he enjoyed sharing with someone again. Even a stranger. Even a girl just stopping by to get an old chair. Someone who listened, and laughed and asked about his day. I lost both of my grandpas at a young age, and it made me wish I could have heard all their stories too.
Before I knew it, an hour had passed. I let him know I better be getting on the road, and we walked out of the shop to my car.
“Megan, it was very nice to meet you today. I’m glad you stopped by and hope you enjoy that old chair. If I find the other leg, I will let you know. Goodness. It has to be around here somewhere.”
“Thanks, I definitely enjoyed it, too. Even if you don’t find the leg, this old chair is still so great.”
I left that day feeling like God pushed me to go get that old broken chair. Like maybe that sweet old man just needed someone to talk to that day. It was as if God had me there to be that someone to ask him about his life and share in the excitement with him of the fun trip he was about to take. I bet we spent half our conversation laughing, and the other half we both shared in tears. That bit of time hanging with a complete stranger and hearing about his life filled me with so much joy. Such a sweet old soul that I got the pleasure to know that day. And to think: I almost skipped picking up the chair and could have driven right on past.
That evening I messaged his daughter back: “I just wanted to let you know I swung by and got the chair from your dad today. He is the sweetest old man, and I bet we talked for a good hour! Anyways, just wanted you to know that your dad had some awesome stories! Thanks again for the cool chair!”
Recently, I realized I had two unread messages, the first from her was from July and she had wrote to say: “My dad went searching and found the other leg to the chair! Let me know how I can get it to you.”
The second message she sent said her Dad had suddenly passed away recently, and if I still wanted the leg to the chair she would bring it to me.
I had to reread the message a few times before it really sunk in. My heart broke for her and her family, and I felt sad knowing he had passed. Then a tiny bit of peace washed over me knowing he got to take that trip with his brothers, and now he was with his wife again.
I will start working on fixing that old chair up. It will be even more special now.
My mom has always taught me: “Cherish all that is old — old things, old people, old values."
That day listening to his stories about his life and those he loved was such a sweet reminder.
Megan Colson is a photographer in Hays.