The Chair--A Logan County Christmas Story
By Algie Ray Smith


Posted on December 23, 2020 3:32 PM




On the Friday before Christmas Ezra Woodward removed his pocket watch from the bib of his hickory-striped Dickies Overalls and checked the time. He kept the old Benson silver time piece there because it had been his grandfather Browder’s watch, and he liked to feel the watch ticking near his heart. 8:50 a.m. Middle of the day for Ezra since his work days began at 4 a.m.

The City Bank opened at 9, and he had an appointment with a loan officer, Mort Pennyrich. Ezra was hoping that he could get a loan from the bank and save his farm, a farm on land that his great-great-grandfather Cy Woodward had purchased in 1824, almost exactly 156 years earlier.

Ezra entered the bank as soon as janitor Mose Hampton unlocked the big double glass doors. “Mawning, Sir,” Mose responded, tipping his badly fraying straw hat to proudly expose his cottony white hair. “Shore is a nice day for this late in December.”

“Good morning to you, Sir.  It is, indeed, a glorious day that the Lord has provided for us.”

Before Ezra had hardly settled himself in one of the overstuffed chairs in the spacious lobby—he had been admiring the marble slate floor—a rather portly man, bald except for a neat expanse of hair that circled back of his head from ear to ear, called out to him, “Are you Ezra Woodward?”

As Ezra stood and extended his hand, he noticed that the man’s suit was a very neat gray pinstripe. Ezra wondered why the man was wearing Sunday clothes on a Friday. “I am, Sir,” Ezra responded.

The man seemed to look Ezra over briefly before he made a sweeping motion with his hand, indicating a hall that led into the bank’s interior. “Right this way, please.”                           

After the man introduced himself as “Loan Officer Mort Pennyrich,” he indicated that Ezra should sit in the straight back chrome chair in front of a large mahogany desk. As Ezra was seating himself, Mr. Pennyrich moved around the desk and plopped down in a black leather upholstered chair with wheels.

Mr. Pennyrich leaned back in the chair, clasped his hands behind his neck, and asked rather gruffly, “What can I do for you?”

 “I need to borrow $1,200.”

Mr. Pennyrich pushed back his chair a bit, unclasped his hands and leaned forward. “And for what purpose? What do you have for collateral?”

“I am behind on some money I borrowed against my farm some years back when the county ag man suggested that I mechanize my operations. I needed a tractor, plows, cultivator, other things.”

“How much are you in arrears?”  

“Three hundred dollars.”

“I see, but why do you need $1200?”

“Well, Sir, in my loan agreement, if I missed four months of payments, the balance would come due. It’s been a bad year…no rain…my land didn’t produce. I missed my payments the past four months. Just didn’t have the cash. I owe $1,200 and my farm stands for it.”

“Where is this original loan of yours? What bank? It’s not here or I would know about it.”

“At a Nashville bank. The Fourth Avenue Farmers Bank and Trust.”

 “Why did you borrow from that particular bank?”

 “It was the bank that financed the equipment I purchased from the dealer.”

 “I’ll have to do some research. Can you come back at 2 p.m.?”  “Yes.”

 Without another word, a good day, or a simple handshake, Mr. Pennyrich stood and exited the room. Ezra sat there awhile rubbing his chin before he returned to his old pickup parked outside. He had chores on the farm and would have to do them before he could return.

At 1:55 Ezra made his way back to Mr. Pennyrich’s office where the banker sat behind his massive desk. A jumble of papers were spread out before him.

“Have a seat,” Mr. Pennyrich mumbled. Ezra sat in the same chair he had taken before.

“Now, I see,” Mr. Pennyrich got right to the point, “as I had copies of your loan delivered by special courier, that your information is factual. Also, the Nashville bank holds a lien on your farm, a small farm I see of only 20 acres.”

‘Yes, Sir, but it is enough. It has made the men in my family a living for generations.”                          

“Ah, yes, I quite understand. But I have learned something that I had overlooked before. The bank that holds the lien on your farm is the parent bank of this bank here. City Bank.”                       

Ezra knitted his brows. He shook his head as if he were clearing out cobwebs. “I’m sorry, Sir, but I don’t understand.”          

Mr. Pennyrich took a deep breath, pulling his shoulders almost up to his elfish ears, then relaxed.  He cupped his hands across his more than ample stomach and began to twiddle his thumbs. Finally, he spoke gravely. “Mr”……..He glanced at a paper on his desk. “Mr. Woodward, I am sorry, but I must deny your loan.”

“But I can pay. I can pay my debt and purchase seeds for my crops.”

 “What you don’t realize, Mr…..ah, Mr. Woodward, is that my bank simply can’t interfere with the business of the Nashville bank. I’m afraid they wouldn’t like that. Sorry.“ He stood to show that their business was over. “Good day to you!”

The Sunday before Christmas

Mrs. Victoria Ann Pennyrich, affectionately called Queenie by the members of her select inner circle of friends, sat on a pillow (the pew was too hard to endure) beneath the very crystal chandelier (patterned after those of the Italian Renaissance) that she had insisted that her husband contribute the cost of to the Baptist Church some years earlier when the church had undergone a major renovation. It was a beautiful fixture and she couldn’t gaze up at it without first donning her dark glasses which she wore most of the time anyway. Her delicate eyes were very sensitive to light.

Snow had been sprinkling down like angel dust all morning, and Mrs. Pennyrich felt a bit of a chill. She had kept on her white tourvaline mink coat with matching turban hat for the entire service.

The pastor had finished his sermon and had issued the invitation. No one came forward. No one had in months, it seemed. As one of the deacons was intoning the final prayer, Mrs. Pennyrich cast her shaded eyes upon the pulpit chairs. She always found them marvelous!

The chairs were Ensley Auturn “Gold Touch” with stuffed paisley backs, ornate arms and legs, and rich chocolate leather seats. She found them charming. Once when she had visited the church office to drop off some used clothing for the winter warm jacket drive, she entered the empty sanctuary, made her way upon the pulpit stage and sat majestically in one of the chairs. She found the experience enlightening….found it to be an almost deeply religious experience.                         

After the final prayer, as the congregation was rising and giving farewells to those around them, Mrs. Pennyrich slipped out the side door. She was in a bit of a hurry as she had left Mort at home that morning suffering from a slight headache.

As Queenie carried herself around the corner and as she prepared to pass in front of the church to the parking lot, the pastor called to her. “OH, Mrs. Pennyrich! Might I have a word with you?”

The pastor had been speaking with Mr. and Mrs. Edwards, who were on the Benevolence Committee. “Excuse me one second,” he politely replied to them.

Mrs. Pennyrich had stopped to face him. “Yes. Certainly, Pastor.”

Placing his hands in his jeans pockets against the cold, he continued. “Might you be able to help us deliver Christmas baskets tomorrow? We are taking baskets this year to non-members, especially those out in the county who have suffered from the recent crop failures and the slight recession.”Mrs. Pennyrich’s mind, as it often did, went blank. She couldn’t think of a single excuse. The snowflakes were gathering on her mink.  She replied rather heartily. “Of course, Pastor. When should I come?”

“Excellent. Thank you, Victoria. We’re gathering in the kitchen area of the educational building at ten o’clock.”

Her nose was cold. “You can count on me, Pastor. I’ll be there with bells on. You know: jingle bells, jingle bells.”

They both laughed and Mrs. Pennyrich went on her way. She had planned other activities for the morrow; but, she thought, perhaps, I can get the bank to le let me borrow Mose. I don’t think I can carry those heavy baskets myself.

The Monday before Christmas

Monday’s weather turned out to be one of those rare “June” days in December. Although the thermometer’s red line stopped at 46, the morning felt much warmer. An Icarus sun was beaming down from a placid blue kite sky. A feeling of calm anticipation wafted through the air like a feather. .

Mrs. Pennyrich was in high spirits to the Nth degree. Even though no visions of sugar plums danced in her head, a noel filled her heart. She had dressed for the occasion in khaki slacks and a UK blue hoodie. She shod her feet in a blue pair of UGG Classic short boots. The boots made her feel a bit elfish. If she was going to be a Santa helper, she might as well look the part. She completed her ensemble with a pair of blue-lensed Maui Jim Boardwalk sunglasses, which she had purchased on their trip to Hawaii.

She pulled her Seville Special Cadillac to the rear door of the educational building where her husband had said that Mose would meet her. The bank was but a block away and there was no need to give him a lift.                        

“Good morning, Mose.”

“Good mawning to you, Mrs. Pennyrich. I have already checked on your deliveries.  You have five, three in town and two in the country.”

“Why, thank you, Mose. I have put old blankets across seats to protect the leather. You may put four boxes in the rear and one up front with me.”

After Mose had loaded the boxes of Christmas goodies, he got into the back seat and replied, “Ready when you are, Mrs. Pennyrich.” Off they went.

The three town deliveries were made promptly and efficiently. At the first of the two country addresses they found no one at home, so they left the box on the front porch.

“Now, let me check, Mose. The last one is out 96 a bit, almost to Schley River if I recollect my postal numbers correctly.”

Mose smiled. He knew the area well for as a lad he had often gone swimming in the river there with his friends on warm fairy tale afternoons.

Mrs. Pennyrich found the quaint little farm easily by watching the numbers on the passing mailboxes.

“Right here!” Mrs. Pennyrich exclaimed. She eased the Caddy down a gravel road, pulling up in front of a white frame house with a neat picket fence enclosing it. A rather large nondescript dog came around from the back of the house wagging its tail excitedly when they pulled up.

“You remain in the car, Mose, while I see if anyone is at home.”

“Might I carry it up since we’re leaving it anyway?”

“Oh, I suppose. Get the box and follow me.”

Inside the house Ezra Woodward was sitting in a rather sad looking beige recliner, its arms almost worn slick by constant use. He had been re-reading the family entries from a worn Bible, its gold inscription faded, that had been his grandfather’s. He was wondering where the Bible would end up next if he, his wife, and children had to vacate the farm.

Upon hearing the knock, Ezra made his way to the door. He was a bit surprised to see the lady standing there. In a single glance he also took in Mose, who was balancing a large box on his left shoulder.

“May I help you?” Ezra asked.

 Mrs. Pennyrich smiled. “No. We’ve come to help you……to have a nicer Christmas.”

When Ezra didn’t answer right off, Mrs. Pennyrich continued. “I represent the Baptist Church in town, the one across from the library. We are distributing boxes of food for Christmas for those who might have a need.”

Ezra smiled broadly. “Come in. Are you sure there’s not another family who needs it more?”                         -

Mrs. Pennyrich smiled and held the screen door so that Mose could enter first. As they entered, she asked, “Is your wife here?”

“No, she’s off on errands; but I am sure she would greet you in the spirit of Christmas if she were.” (Ezra chose not to tell his visitor that his wife was out trying to sell a few dozen eggs and the ham they had saved for Christmas so that there might be money to buy their children each a gift. The children…11-year-old Jason and 9-year-old Sharon--were helping out a neighbor down the lane who had been feeling porely with her chores.)

“Where might we put this box?” Mrs. Pennyrich looked about the sparse room.

 “Oh, come `this way. You can bring it into the kitchen, please.”

Ezra led the way to the kitchen. Mose followed with the box. While they were gone Mrs. Pennyrich stepped from the small room which must have served as a living room to a door to her right. When she glanced into this room, she noticed what must be a family room. A small screen cabinet model tv sat in one corner. Across from it was a sagging couch that looked as it might collapse any moment. Then she saw the decorated Christmas tree!

The tree was simply beautiful, topped with a large haloed angel; but it wasn’t the tree that caused her to audibly gasp! Near the tree was a chair and in the chair was a wooden nativity scene.

THE CHAIR! She felt faint. She recognized the chair because she had five exactly like it in her home….in the formal dining room. The chair, she thought…….NO, she was positive. The chair was a Dutch Baroque by designer Daniel Marot (circa 1690). He had been forced to leave France in 1665. He had designed the chairs for one of William of Orange’s smaller palaces.

She put one hand to her heaving breast and the other to her mouth so that she could breathe into it. As she heard the men returning from the kitchen, she steadied herself.

“This is very kind of your church,” Ezra said as he entered. “These have been hard times for us and your charity is indeed welcome. I shall remember you and your congregation in my prayers.”

 “You—you—you are-are welcome,” she finally managed to stammer. Then a flash of lightning almost dimmed her eyes. She turned quickly to Mose. “Please go and wait in the car. I wish to speak to this man alone.”  

“Certainly, Ma’am.”

As soon as Ezra had shut the door behind Mose and before he could say a word to the lady, Mrs. Pennyrich spoke rapidly. “The chair…in the other room.. the one by the tree…nativity scene…….might I look at it more closely?”

A bit puzzled, but accommodating in any way he could because of her kindness, Ezra assured her. “Of course, you may. I believe you are referring to our Christmas chair. Right this way.”                          

Mrs. Pennyrich went directly to the chair. “Might you remove the nativity? I would like to look under the seat.”

A bit puzzled, Ezra continued. He removed the nativity scene. Mrs. Pennyrich looked at the now empty chair. It had a scrolled back and knob feet. The red velvet seat looked as if it had just been stuffed and placed. It still held a rich, almost wine color to it.

As Ezra watched, Mrs. Pennyrich carefully knelt, turned the chair gently on its side, and took out her glasses from a pocket of her hoodie. They were only readers. Heaven help if anyone should know that she often had to have assistance seeing small print.

Her hand trembled a bit as she leaned forward and as her bespectacled eyes searched the bottom of the chair seat. SHE FOUND IT! It was unmistakable : the tiny crescent mark  c ,  and  the  letters  D B !  Without taking her eyes off the mark, without turning her head, she asked, “THIS CHAIR!? Where did you get this chair?”

Ezra shook his head slightly as if he were clearing away a cobweb there. “This old chair? Why, we only bring it out at Christmas. It’s been handed down in the family for decades. I believe the story is that it belonged to my great-grandfather who came to this country from Ireland in the early 1800’s. We call it the CHRISTMAS CHAIR. When I was a child, I was never allowed to sit in it. I have never sat in it. My children have never sat in it.”

Without turning the chair back on it legs, Mrs. Pennyrich rose to her feet. She seemed to take on the role of Cruella De’Vil in the 101 Dalmations.  She sounded exactly like voice actress Betty Lou Gerson! She pointed a well-manicured finger at the chair! “I WISH TO PURCHASE THAT CHAIR!”

Ezra responded politely, “Gee, I don’t know. I have never thought about selling it.”

“I want it! I’ll give you $500 for it. Cash! Right now!”

“Well, I’ve never even considered selling it. It’s just an old chair, but it’s family.”

“$1,000! Cash! I’ll go and get it right now.”

 “Sorry,” Ezra began, “but I really don’t think I could sell it.”

 “$1,500!  $1,500 cash in hand! Surely, you could use $1,500.”

He surely could, Ezra quickly reasoned. With that much he could pay off the bank note and have money left for Christmas and next season’s crops. But he hesitated. “I might should confer with my wife!”

Mrs. Pennyrich knew how possessive some women could be! “NO! Now! My final offer is $2,000, and I’ll have the chair moved myself. “                           

Ezra felt overwhelmed! Here was the answer to his prayers!  And, after all, the chair stayed hidden most of the year! He looked at Mrs. Pennyrich. She was visibly shaking!

“Okay. I’ll sell you the chair.”

She breathed a sigh of relief! I’ll go and get the money. Cash. But I have one request….”

“Yes?”

“You must promise to tell no one other than your wife that I purchased the chair. My husband must not know. He thinks I spend too much of his money as it is”.

Ezra nodded in the affirmative. He didn’t know her. She had never said her name. He might or might not know her husband.  However, the old man helping her did look a bit familiar.

“Good. I shall return within the hour with the money.” Then she was gone.

In a bit of a daze Ezra sat at the kitchen table and sipped a cup of warm coffee. His father had taught him not to count his chickens until the eggs hatched. The woman might be kidding. She might not be back. He wouldn’t make any plans……yet.

The Tuesday before Christmas

Mrs. Pennyrich had been very sincere. She had returned within an hour the day before. She had counted out the 20 hundred dollar bills slowly into his hand. The money had made his heart race The $2000 was now safely tucked in a tackle box under Ezra’s bed.

Mrs. Pennyrich had returned with a Ford Estate wagon. With the back seats let down, the chair fit perfectly in. Ezra had helped her load it. He had offered to follow her to town and help her unload, but she had told him that she had friends who would help.

When Ezra had told his wife about the transaction, she had exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! I prayed for God’s will to be done. Now, we won’t lose the farm. I won’t have to depend on the $6 I got for the eggs. We are truly blessed! I can contribute to the missionary fund at church.”

Ezra traveled to the bank in Nashville with 12 of the bills. The loan officer who accepted the money and released the lien on his farm, asked, “Where did you borrow the money to pay off this loan? You told me previously that you simply wouldn’t be able to pay until late next year.”

Ezra smiled. “The money is legal tender, is it not?”  “Of course.”

“Then, Sir, I wish you and yours a Merry Christmas!”

The loan officer returned, “And a Merry Christmas to you, Sir. I hope I have not been too inquisitive.” He extended a hand to Mr. Woodward.

Ezra took his hand and shook it warmly. “No. No. You are fine.”

“Well, then, Sir, if our bank can ever be of further assistance, just let us know.”

“God bless you,” Ezra smiled warmly and left.

At the stoplight in Springfield, he pulled over to the curb. A neatly dressed Salvation Army bell ringer was collecting money in a red bucket. “Make someone’s Christmas brighter,” the man replied.  

“Certainly.” Ezra dug into his overalls pocket for the $5 he had put there for an emergency. He dropped the $5 into the bucket, silently wishing that he had brought more.

“God bless you, Sir!  Merry Christmas!”   Ezra pulled away.

Christmas Eve

On Christmas Eve outside the snug Woodward farm house, a snow that promised a white Christmas was beginning to paint the cover of a Hallmark holiday card.

At dinner Ezra and his family sat around the laden Christmas table. His wife had kept back enough eggs to make boiled custard. which sat next to the sink with a creamy banana cake topped with slices of fresh bananas. The fixings, of course, came from the basket Mrs. Pennyrich had delivered from the church.

Mrs. Woodward had prepared the rest of the dinner with the items from the gift box: a small turkey, canned yams, potatoes, canned cranberries, carrots, and the like. She had also made a pan of biscuits.

After the blessing Ezra carved the turkey, giving a drumstick each to Jason and to Sharon. As Mrs. Woodward passed around the steaming bowls of food, Jason asked, “Father, why do you always sit in that old cane bottom chair. It looks as if it might fall apart any second and dump you onto the floor.”

Ezra helped himself to the mashed potatoes. “Well, Son, you see, it is a tradition in our family for the father to make a chair for his son when his son takes a wife. Your grandfather, God rest his soul, made this chair for me as a wedding present when your mother and I married. The tradition is that as long as this chair holds up, the marriage will hold up .”

Mother laughed. “Yes, and you might notice that it has been repaired in several places. Some repairs I made and some your father did.”

“So,” Sharon joined in, “As long as the chair lasts you and father will remain happily married.”

Mother smiled. “Oh, it’s only a tradition. We try to keep that old cane bottom chair together, but if it should completely go KAPUT, our marriage would not. We made a promise to the Lord that we would stay married until….but eat your vegetables, but save some room for my famous banana anna cake.”

Jason picked up a fork, but before he plunged it into the cranberry sauce, he pointed it at his father. “Father, are you gonna make me a chair?

It was Ezra’s turn to laugh.  “I’m already working on it.”

At the Pennyrich house Mort and Queenie sat eating microwave dinners in front of their tv. (The microwave had cost them a pretty penny, but they wanted to be the first on their block to have such an extravagance.)  When Mort had walked through the dining room he hadn’t noticed that there were now six chairs instead of five. His mind was elsewhere. He had a notion of going out after Christmas and viewing the Woodward farm. He might be interested in purchasing it himself.  He, of course, had no way of knowing that HE HAD, IN A WAY, saved the farm for the Woodwards and that it would remain in their family for many Christmases to come.

Merry Christmas to all from THE SMITHS

 




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