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Looking for Me

At the age of ten, I got a glimpse of my destiny. It happened on a steamy summer’s day back in 1964.

What I remember most vividly was how the legs of that old chair poked up from the weed-choked ditch. And how, when I pulled it to the side of the road and stood it upright, its threadbare seat exhaled a tired puff of dust into the air. Even beneath the layers of dirt, I could see that the chair was beautiful. A dining chair, I guessed, the kind that once sat in a fine home and had seen lots of fancy dinner parties, birthday celebrations, and holiday feasts. The arms were curved and graceful, and the back was shaped like an urn. What that chair was doing in a rural Kentucky ditch is something I’ll never know, but I wanted it something fierce, so I took it.

Finders keepers.

Though I was a good half mile from the farm, I hauled that chair all the way home. First I looped my arms through the chair’s arms and carried it on my back like a wounded soldier. When it got too heavy, I dragged it behind me. The air was hot and thick with humidity, and when the wind kicked up, it was like walking toward a blowtorch. But that old chair was mine, and nothing was going to make me leave it behind.

When I finally arrived home, light-headed from the heat and parched with thirst, I lugged the chair up the dirt driveway and into the backyard. As I set it in the shade beneath the oak tree, Jigs, my dog, did a happy lope-hop off the back porch and greeted me. I loved him up for a minute, took a long drink from the garden hose, and then collapsed on the grass. Jigs sprawled out next to me, and we just lay in the shade enjoying each other’s company. While scratching his ears and wondering how I’d fix the seat of the chair, I heard the squeak of the screen door.

I looked up to see my mother step onto the porch. Her sundress hung limp in the heat, and her sweat-dampened hair was pinned high off her neck. She shook out a rug, draped it over the porch rail, and looked at me.

“Where in the world did that come from?”

“I found it in the ditch, down by Will Fowler’s farm.”

“Clear down there— how’d you get it here?”

“I carried it.”

“In this heat?” Mama walked down the steps to have a better look. “Oh, Lord. It’s junk, Teddi.”

“No it’s not. It’s beautiful.”

“I never know what you’ll haul home next.” She threw an unfavorable glance at Jigs and shook her head. I wrapped my arm around his neck, pulled him close, and met her eye to eye. Jigs licked my face.

My brother and I had found him at the edge of the cornfield the previous summer. He’d been shot in the rump and was whimpering and limping something awful. We lifted that poor dog into the wagon and carted him home, and when Mama saw us coming, she got upset. She said we couldn’t afford a dog, much less a vet bill to fix one up. But Daddy had a soft spot for animals, so he paid the vet to make Jigs well again. Sometimes when Mama wasn’t looking, he’d even slip Jigs a piece of meat from his supper plate.

Mama gave my chair a flat-eyed look, then reached down and lifted my hand. “I see you’ve been messin’ with my nail polish again.”

Right when I thought she would make me go inside and take it off, the deep chug-chug of Daddy’s tractor sounded. Mama and I turned to see it appear from the side of the barn. Puffs of gray smoke lifted into the air from its tall exhaust stack, and Roxy was hunkered down for the ride.

Earlier that summer, Daddy had taught Roxy to do something amazing. After folding an old blanket and setting it on the front of the tractor, he tied it down with twine. When he had it just right, he whistled for Roxy. She was big and beautiful and loved my dad something awful. Roxy was a Brahma chicken— fluffy white with feather pantaloons that went all the way down to her toes.

Daddy lifted Roxy onto the blanket and taught her how to ride on the front of the tractor. She’d hook her long toenails into the wool, shake her tail, and then nestle down and get comfortable. When she was ready, he’d fire up the engine of his tractor and off they’d go, bouncing along the path that led to the cornfield. Roxy sat up there like a feathery pom-pom, all plump and proud. There was no mistaking how much she liked it.

I thought it was the cutest thing I’d ever seen, but whenever Mama saw Roxy and Daddy out in the field, her lips would thin or she’d roll her eyes. Sometimes both. Mama said Daddy spent more time talking to that chicken than he did talking with her. I never knew anybody could get jealous over a chicken, but there you have it.

While Daddy headed down the driveway toward us, Grammy Belle stepped out to the porch carrying a tray with a pitcher and glasses. “Got some nice fresh lemonade,” she said, walking across the lawn and setting the tray on the picnic table. She waved her hand in the air to get Daddy’s attention.

“What do you have there, honey?” Grammy asked me.

“I found it in the ditch. Isn’t it pretty?”

She pushed her glasses up on her nose and leaned close. “Oh, it’s a beauty.”

“I’m gonna fix it up and put it in my bedroom. Will you help me, Grammy?”

“Why, sure I will.”

Just then Josh, who was covered in mud and smelled like the pond, came running up with a bullfrog hugged to his chest. Mama stood, her face expressionless as her gaze traveled from Grammy and me to Daddy and Roxy and lastly to Josh and his frog. Then she looked down at Jigs. Mama shook her head and went back inside the house.

My grandmother and I worked on that old chair for hours, bleaching off the mold and scrubbing every inch. The more I cleaned, the more I loved what I saw. I pointed to a row of carved flowers at the top of the chair.

“How’d they do this?”

“It takes a real old-time craftsman to do that kind of detail. They have lots of special tools. Some as tiny as the ones dentists use.”

In my imagination I could see the steady hands of a man working a piece of wood, carving each flower patiently and smoothing his fingers over what he’d just done. It was while we oiled that old chair and buffed it to a satiny sheen that I began thinking about what it might be like to fix up old furniture and sell it in my very own shop.

Looking for Me
by by Beth Hoffman

  • Genres: Fiction
  • hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Pamela Dorman Books
  • ISBN-10: 0670025836
  • ISBN-13: 9780670025831