The crimson rug at 211 Vinewood covered most of the hardwood. Living room golf was one of my favorite pastimes, especially at Grandma and Grandpa’s. Grandpa housed his silver putting cup in the dining room drawer, quietly nestled amongst the other trinkets. The cup’s beveled edge was steep enough to deny putts lacking appropriate pace, but its raised, curved perimeter proudly corralled those that made it in. Often, I asked for permission to use it, and Grandma was always happy to retrieve it for me. One day, after positioning the cup near the fringed edge of the rug, I walked toward the fireplace with two golf balls in hand. After a pendulum-like practice stroke–the one Grandma and Grandpa preached–I addressed the ball.
With a final glance at my target, I made a smooth stroke. I watched as the ball held its line. As it neared the cup, I stepped forward to celebrate–raising my arms in triumph. Then I stopped. A small bump–imperceptible a moment ago–now loomed in front of the cup. The ball veered right and caromed off the edge, missing wide.
That moment of exultation vanished. I charged after the errant ball–teeth gritted–swinging wildly in disgust. It only took a single swipe. I punctured Grandpa’s leather chair, the putter’s toe digging in just beneath the armrest.
I was 9 years old, and ten seemed uncertain. Any chair but Grandpa’s, any chair but that one.
My legs went first. I sank as tears streamed down my cheeks, emptying into the corners of my mouth. Pangs of nausea rippled through my stomach as I sat on my knees amidst the incriminating evidence. Grandpa’s Italian leather chair—a highly coveted seat at family gatherings—sat next to the end table as it did before. Only now, its maimed side would incite anger, I was sure.
I knew what awaited me. I dreaded the conversation with Grandpa—that candid moment of confession where the lump in my throat would swell with each word uttered. He was a wonderful man—generous beyond belief—but old school in every sense of the phrase. His authoritative brand of discipline came equipped with an arsenal of didactic narratives and clear expectations. The thought of his furrowed brow and piercing eyes was more than I could handle. When we finally spoke, though, he was calm—disappointed, but calm. And word of my ensuing punishment came quickly.
I worked that summer shoveling dirt, pulling weeds, washing windows. Dad drove me to Grandpa’s every Monday to atone for my transgression. The regret was like a plume of smoke, enveloping me each time I unlatched the iron gate to Grandpa’s yard. With flecks of dirt adorning my sunburned legs, I transferred each mound of earth across the yard. Working in the hot summer sun felt interminable. Minutes felt like hours and hours like days. I longed for the comfort of air conditioning. I felt like a prisoner at the whim of whatever Grandpa deemed necessary to correct my behavior. At my age, it was the most torturous punishment imaginable, but it was entirely deserved.
Grandpa impressed upon me that summer an indelible lesson in self-control and accountability. Poor choices yield negative consequences. He made sure I wouldn’t forget.
What seemed like an eternity, in truth, was only about six days–six Mondays–and not nearly enough to cover the repairs. He could have arranged for my dad to bring me for the entirety of the summer, but in his mind, a few days would suffice. Now, when I reflect on those hot summer days, I appreciate what Grandpa did for me. I needed it.
The irony is that Grandpa’s blue leather chair is now mine. That very seat I so recklessly damaged some 25 years ago resides in my basement office. Shortly after my Grandpa’s passing, Grandma offered me the chair. “Is it something you’d like to have?” she asked. She knew, though—she already knew. My eyes welled. To quantify the number of times I’d sat in that chair would be impossible. It was my favorite, the one I sought more than any other.
I often think of Grandpa, but especially when I drape my arm over the chair’s side and run my fingers along the finely-crafted leather. And when my fingertips find it, when they linger upon that familiar scar, I remember. Grandpa never repaired the side panel. He didn’t care about the chair—he cared about me. And so now it sits in my office and remains un-mended. There’s a story, a lesson, a bond, a love–all in that inch-long scar. I’ll never fix the chair, Grandpa. I promise.
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