When I came to “A Vampire Chair,” while copy editing Issue No. 1 of The Stick Chair Journal, I side-eyed my own stick chair in my house. Without even reading the first sentence, I thought, There’s more than one?
Turns out the story in The Stick Chair Journal is about a fabled chair in Tennessee that was broken apart to murder its owner and, once repaired, begins acting odd. Although my chair was never broken apart to murder anyone, my entire family insists it’s hell-bent on trying. And I’m to blame.
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In late 2004, I was an editor at Popular Woodworking Magazine, and in between copy editing, they’d throw me into woodworking classes. Given that this was almost 20 years ago, the details are a bit fuzzy, but I do remember I got married in October 2004, and soon after I returned from my honeymoon I was building a Welsh stick chair with Don Weber and several other editors at the magazine in a week-long class. I remember Chris being particularly excited about this opportunity, and I knew it was a big deal.
So I tried to soak in everything Don said. And not just about building chairs. I was going to start doing yoga every morning on a beautiful rug in a stream of sunlight! I was going to start making my own lemon curd! I even considered wearing vests.
I was also a nervous wreck. I was 25 years old, had majored in magazine journalism, and was finally getting used to rabbets being spelled with an “e.” But everyone was more than kind; I had a lot of help, and I built a stick chair.
I’m pretty sure I was behind everyone else in the class because I think Chris was done and helping me finish my chair when he told me I might want to break my edges a bit.
“No,” I said.
Why? I don’t know. I was a
stupid stubborn 25-year-old. Or maybe it was because he had presented it as a choice instead of an order. Still, Chris was my boss, and to break up the awkwardness, I think I said something along the lines of, “I want it to look crisp,” as if I knew what that even meant/how Welsh stick chair edges were supposed to look/what I was even talking about.
Chris just let me be, which he always graciously does.
So I brought the chair home, which, looking at, y’all will probably criticize, but I was (quietly) proud of this chair. Crafting letters into sentences came naturally to me. Crafting wood into something sturdy and useful did not. And as young, broke newlyweds, this chair was, by far, one of the nicest, and most useful, pieces of furniture we owned. Even if it looked a little wonky.
My husband, Andy, and I painted the chair. (If you ever want to test a marriage early on, take two very different personality types, add a can of milk paint and paint a stick chair together. We are still married. I’ll leave it at that.)
Before painting, Andy asked if I wanted to break the edges a bit.
“Why does everyone keep asking me that?” I asked/yelled. “They look so good sharp! I want them crisp!”
I’m pretty sure I let out an exasperated sigh, as one does in your mid-20s, thinking no one understood me or my good taste.
My chair listened to my mulishness and responded in kind. It had no mercy.
It cut everyone it encountered.
Friends would come over and, looking at it, a bit perplexed, Andy would say, “Kara made that!” which was very kind and loving. And I swear the chair, in response, would magically beckon them over because the next thing I know, they would be touching it/sitting in it and then there would be blood and then I would be apologizing and getting them a Band-Aid.
But I was stubborn.
“You could still break the edges,” Andy said.
“Everyone is just sitting in it wrong,” I said.
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Then we had kids.
First Sophie. Then two years later, twins, James and Owen. Once they were old enough to walk and talk, they didn’t call it The Vampire Chair. They called it The Evil Chair. Anytime they bumped into (or, as they claimed, the chair reached out and bit them), they carried on about how this chair was trying to kill them.
For a while, the Vampire/Evil Chair lived in our attic.
There are benefits to accidentally building a Vampire Chair:
1) If you ever find yourself parenting a 4-year-old and two 2-year-olds in a small home, and you are tired, and they are (always) not tired, you will eventually learn the only way you can keep them from (literally) swinging from the dining room chandelier is to put all the dining room chairs up on the dining room table when not in use. We did this for over a year. Because our kids refused to engage with my Vampire Chair, if all our dining room chairs had been Vampire Chairs, we wouldn’t have had to go to this trouble.
2) We like to have people over and especially when you’re young and broke, seating is limited. We’d bring out everything we had – the random rusty folding chair in the garage, plastic outdoor chairs, pillows on the floor for cushions. Sometimes my Vampire Chair, which had gotten a bad rap, would sit empty. This would annoy me to no end and I’d usually sit in it to gently prove a point. (No garlic, I simply had a whole move down I made so I could sit without drawing any blood.) But every once in a while a friend or family member would visit and despite a still very-present scar on their skin they would, unafraid, make way for the Vampire Chair and settle in. Respect.
3) If no one is sitting in a Vampire Chair, you always have a place to put things – your coat, your bag, the mail etc.
If I’ve learned anything since accidentally building a Vampire Chair 20-plus years ago it’s that if something you love keeps biting, it’s easy to place blame. “The edges are fine – everyone just needs to be more careful. What were you thinking, wearing shorts?” But love doesn’t have to (nor should it mean) perfection. You can love something you created and admit you made (sometimes many) mistakes.
Also, does this mean I think you should always listen to what others tell you should do?
But I do believe we’re all
stupid stubborn 20-somethings and stupid stubborn 70-somethings. Real growth happens when we learn when to ignore advice and when to listen. Now in my 40s, I think that’s a lifelong thing.
(For what it’s worth, our Vampire Chair is no longer in the attic and it has stopped biting! Or, the edges have been broken finally. On flesh.)
— Kara Gebhart Uhl