For my entire life, I’ve known and loved this charming rocking chair. It lives at the family cottage and, like so much of the house’s early 20th century furnishings and trim, was originally painted deep burgundy-red. This was a popular colour of the time, and the paint – common and cheap – contained lead. Trouble was (aside from the health hazard, which no one knew about back then), all that darkness made the house seem very gloomy indeed, especially at night. My mother recalls evenings as a youngster, before the installation of electricity, reading by the feeble light of a coal-oil lamp. The room’s wood-panelled corners were shrouded in mysterious shadow; who knew what lurked there? How her youthful imagination must have taken flight – and set the gooseflesh to rising!
Those summer nights, perched cross-legged on that chair, my mom read and re-read one of her all-time favourite books, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine. This novel was written in 1908 by John Fox, Jr. Billed as a “western romance”, it involves the encroachment of modern industrialism on a traditional Appalachian coal mining town, two feuding clans, and a good ol’, darn tootin’ Eliza Doolittle/Professor Higgins-style romance. Wildly popular, Lonesome Pine inspired a 1913 song and numerous subsequent stage and screen adaptations. My mother’s copy, which had graced the cottage bookshelf for decades, disappeared one summer, but about 20 years ago, she found a replacement (shown here) at a local antiques shop. I sheepishly admit that, in all my summers at the lake, I haven’t yet read this wonderful volume. But its yellowing pages are calling me now, and I know I’ll read it settled into the seat of that welcoming old rocker.
My grandfather, with the assistance of his then ten-year-old daughter, installed the chair’s rope seat when the original rushes wore out. My mom remembers helping to hold the ropes taut as he worked. They did an excellent job, because for more than seventy years, it’s stoically withstood summers on an open-air porch, mouse infestations, uninsulated winters and generations of soggy, bathing-suited bottoms.
As for all that dark red décor, it eventually fell out of fashion; light, creamy white was now in. But by then it was known that stripping lead paint was dangerous, so the red was simply covered over. And over. And over. Many years and layers of paint later, that deep burgundy still shows up where the white layers have chipped, or bleeds through in patches of pale pink. It’s as if the old finish – once desired and au courant – is part of the very lifeblood of the place, reminding us of our favourite things, and willfully refusing to be forgotten.