Sunday, November 1, 2009

Lawn chair circles

How many people are old enough to remember the yearly spring ritual of refurbishing lawn chairs? I'm not quite sure what the correct term would be. I'm speaking of the process of buying new rolls of plastic strips of materials and replacing the seats and backs of all the lawn chairs for the new year. This required patience and skill, because if you didn't get the strips woven and secured tightly enough, the seats of the chairs would sag and tear.

In a brief side note, I am from a very large family. My Mom is one of nine siblings, and our family is unusually close. We were fortunate enough to live next door to my maternal grandparents when I was a child, and this meant that our house was the hub of all visiting activities throughout any given year. Holidays, summer weekends, etc., there always seemed to be someone visiting. This meant that a large number of lawn chairs were necessary to have on hand. They were stored out of the weather for the winter months, but the nature of the materials used to create the seats and backs almost always necessitated a yearly refurbishing session.

A day would be set aside to revamp all the lawn chairs, and scissors, screwdrivers and lots of hands were required. This process usually took a few hours and involved lots of laughter, stories and discussion. The adults would do the measuring and cutting of the plastic webbed strips of material, and the kids would do the weaving, in and out, of the strips. The edges would be folded neatly and a screw would be punched through and secured into the aluminum chair frame, bolting each strip down. Once the newly restored lawn chairs were finished, the inevitable front yard visiting would ensue.

This same type of thing would also occur at my Aunt Carrie's house, which was just down the lane from my grandparent's house. Aunt Carrie's house had a front porch, a porch swing and great big tree in the front yard that was perfect for climbing. Depending on the day, the number of people visiting, and what was going on, we would congregate at Aunt Carrie's front porch where the porch swing, the glider and various cane chairs, benches and rocking chairs existed. If any of the myriad grandkids (approximately 27 of us) grew bored, that big tree would beckon to be climbed, or the front yard would become the staging ground for any number of games. Sometimes, if the occasion was really special, the hand-cranked ice cream maker would be brought out. Rock salt would be poured inside and everyone would take a turn cranking the handle to produce that wonderful ice cream. To my way of thinking, porch swings and rocking chairs just invite people to settle down, sit and visit. Aunt Carrie's porch was always another gathering spot when people visited.

I miss those days. Times have changed so drastically that people don't spend much time joining together on the front lawn or front porch, talking. Television, computers, computer games and all manner of technology seem to have pulled our attention away from socializing face to face. I rarely even see those old fashioned lawn chairs anymore. The new portable fold-out styles seem to be taking over.

I can close my eyes and still see the circle of lawn chairs in my grandparent's front yard. There was a huge Weeping Willow tree that provided a fairytale enclosure beneath its graceful branches. To the right side of the house, my Grandpa grew squash in a small patch. This provided reeds that all my uncles could, with a pocket knife, magically create whistles for all the grandkids to play with. We could also make whistle whips with willow switches - stripping all but the top cluster of leaves off the switch, then swinging the switch in a circle would produce a high pitched whistling sound. There were games to play as the lightning bugs would begin to twinkle in the late evening light. Swing the Statue, Mother, May I?, Red Light-Green Light, Tag, etc. Parents were right there in the lawn chair circle to dole out hugs, kisses and to referee inevitable squabbles and doctor up small hurts. Unless a bone was broken, we were given a kiss and a hug, and sent back to continue to play. A black walnut tree around the side of the yard, along with a small vegetable garden provided ample opportunity to occupy eternally hungry stomachs.

If some of the adults were willing to play with us, that was even better. Uncles would swing us by our hands, or let us walk on their feet, give us piggyback rides, and sometimes play tag or wrestle, or climb Aunt Carrie's big tree. Television was not something we even thought about all that much in those days. The outdoors provided so much to explore, and those front yard lawn chair chats were a daily occurrence. Sometimes they morphed into late night lawn chair chats, where everyone would gather in the front yard to talk and star gaze. The quiet of the country nights, trains echoing softly in the background, crickets and cicadas singing all around, and the sounds of conversation drifting interspersed with many moments of laughter...these are the things I remember so clearly.

For several years, there was a brown rabbit that would creep to the edge of the front yard at my Grandpa's front yard to listen to us talk. We noticed him one late afternoon, just sitting there, listening. The next several days, there he would be, in his same spot. At some point, my Grandpa began leaving scraps of food for the rabbit and he became a daily fixture, sitting quietly at the edge of the yard, listening to the conversations and laughter long after he had nibbled his way through his late afternoon snack. I always found that fascinating, that a wild animal would be drawn to listen to a group of people talking and laughing.

These are memories from my childhood that I treasure. I don't know what brought the yearly ritual of refurbishing the lawn chairs to mind, but it sparked this post. I guess that our childhood always seems to be full of simpler times, memories and experiences, hazed in our minds in that soft, gentle glow of happiness and security. I have always dreamed of having a home in the country like that, perhaps, with luck, to build on our family land. My ideal home would have a front porch, like Aunt Carrie's, with a porch swing, rocking chairs and benches aplenty. Ideally, front porch and/or front yard lawn chair conversations will exist again in the not too distant future.

This is one old fashioned trait that I would like to see a resurgence of, with people actually coming together to socialize, visit and enjoy interacting directly with one another, without a single electronic entertainment device added into the mix. The simple shared pleasure of conversation, fellowship and laughter seems to be a dying art. Conversation, visiting and front yard lawn chair circles brought us together in such a simple manner, yet to my way of thinking, this is one of the reasons our family stayed so tightly bonded. We actually talked to one another, and listened. To this day, we all come together on a yearly basis for one large family reunion that is highly anticipated by all, and there are several smaller reunions that crop up here and there. Perhaps those old fashioned lawn chairs served a greater purpose than any of us realized all those years ago.


  1. we called it re-caning; as the bottoms and backs of our chairs were made of cane. you should come to some junk stores with me; you can still pick those chairs up for about $12 bucks a pop- i think one should be in your house... (i have two!)

  2. We did re-caning too, or rather, my Grandpa did and we handed him the materials. Small hands didn't have the strength to weave and pull the cording tight enough, according to Grandpa. I would LOVE to come junking w/ you sometime soon! And I'd love to pick up a cane bottom chair for home. Let's do it!