#34 The Chair Maker
A Shed in the Ozarks
I was with a few college friends when I came across Dee Warren's shed on Ink Road, outside of Eminence, Missouri. On a spring afternoon in 1977, he invited us in to see how he made his chairs.
A Tiny Work Space
Dee's shed was one of many small wooden structures. He had a few dog houses, at least one chicken coop and a couple small barns.
Sitting in the middle of all the weathered, wooden buildings, was Dee's chopping area. This was the area where he cut up the hickory and cherry and oak trees that came from his land. There was a sweet fragrance to the fresh wood scattered about.
Two Kinds of Chairs
Dee learned how to make chairs by studying a chair his father made. He made straight back ladder chairs with seats made of woven hickory bark. The rockers were his high price chairs. $35.00 for a cherry or oak rocking chair! A mere $15.00 for the ladder backs.
Dee was not much of a salesman, but he did invite us to put our names down on a list if we wanted a chair made. He said he'd call when he was caught up and had a chair ready. It would take about a year.
Chatting in the Shed
He didn't bother to clean off the work table that he sat on while he told us about his work. As he spoke, I looked around at the layer of saw dust and shavings that covered the scattered tools and materials. I hoped he was careful with his cigarettes in this tiny flammable shed.
Dee's Past Work
Dee seemed glad to have the break while we chatted. He wasn't overly enthusiastic about his craft.
It turns out he had only been making chairs for 4 years. He'd lost his thumb working at a nearby sawmill and was no longer able to do mill work. When we drove by the mill later I wondered if he was relieved to be done with that kind of labor. Hopefully he was givevn some kind of compensation, because he told us he was averaging about 75 cents an hour making chairs. That's how much I had gotten paid babysitting as a teenager.
If you're still around you 'd probably be nearly 100. Hopefully you've had some good retirement years rocking in one of those chairs...softened with a cozy cushion, maybe. I can't tell you how many times I've thought about your chairs and scolded myself. "Why didn't I put my name on the chair list?" I could have been rocking in one myself!
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers