The Morris chair was an early style of reclining chair and first sold by Morris & Company, a British firm, in the late 1860s. The chairs, with backs that reclined, usually strong wooden frames with flat, wide arms-good for sitting and writing were popular through the remainder of the nineteenth century and into the 1930s in Britain and the United States. Stickley began to sell a version early in the twentieth century.
In the United States, Morris chairs were sold by retailers such as Sears & Roebuck, Montgomery Ward and many local furniture stores. Some newspaper ads from the early twentieth century list them for as little as $5.95-on sale- marked down from $11.00. Today, Morris chairs are popular among antique collectors. My Morris chair dates from at least the 1920s, and possibly earlier. It was my grandfather's chair.
Lester P. Abel, my maternal grandfather, was born in Rhea County, Tennessee in 1886, the second of nine children of Alfred L. and Sarah Jane Abel. Alfred’s grandfather, Cain Abel, settled in Rhea County in 1811. Sometime in the 1890s, Alfred and Sarah moved their family to Texas and settled in the small Johnson County town of Keene. Alfred was a painter-not a painter of canvas-a painter of buildings. He taught his sons the craft and each of them made a living from the craft at one time or another.
Lester met a young girl from a Dallas County pioneer family and they married in 1906. He started a paint contracting company and provided well for his family for many years. However, around the end of 1925, Lester became ill and in 1926, died from Hodgkin Disease at the age of forty-seventeen years before I came along.
I often sit in that old Morris chair and try to envision Lester relaxing there, a cigar planted between his teeth, smoke circling his head-for I also have his old glass cigar humidor. As I sit there, I imagine him coming home from a day of work, paint spattered and smelling of turpentine and linseed oil, as he steps into a house filled with the aroma of roast and fresh bread, the product of Grandmother’s labors in the kitchen. After a quick clean-up and a change into fresh, comfortable clothes, he snuggles into that chair for a short rest before supper. Although the cushions have been re-covered several times over the years, they contain the original down filling. Any aroma from his cigars those cushions may have retained has faded in the almost one hundred years since he last occupied them.
I ponder what his thoughts were from day to day and how his thoughts changed as he drew nearer to death. Was he sitting in that chair giving thanks to God as news of the end of the “War to end all wars” began to reach the people? Did he read in the newspaper of the devastation of humanity from the Spanish Flu while sitting in that old chair? Was he eased in his last days by the comfort of that chair?
The old Morris chair in my den is a reminder of history-my history. Today, a movement is sweeping not only the United States, but the world, to remove reminders of history. What folly! The destruction of those reminders will not change the facts of the history they symbolize. George Orwell, author of the dystopian novel, 1984, warned us, “The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”© Jim Terry
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.