My Dad’s chair reminds me of my own teen years but it also serves as a great memo to myself: Teens know it all (not really).
By Peter Carter
MAYA ANGELOU ONCE SAID, “People may not remember exactly what you did, or what you said, but they will always remember how you made them feel.”
I sure recall how my entire family felt the year my mom spent the week leading up to Christmas in the hospital. Though it was decades ago, our house was gloomy and heavy hearted. Especially my dad. He loved my mom so much. We all wished we could figure out how to cheer him up.
And then one of my sisters and I decided to decorate the tree. Back then, synthetic trees were rare, and like most of the people we knew, we Carters had a tree that was neither balanced nor bushy.
So my dad sat in “his” chair watching while we did our best to get the tree erect and decorated. Choosing the baubles and untangling the tinsel wasn’t nearly as challenging as simply making the thing stay standing.
At one point, I tied a string from the top branches to a curtain rod.
We wrestled with the branches, rotated the trunk and hung decorations, until finally, decided the tree was as good as it could get.
We took a step back.
And down she fell, angel and all, just clearing our Phillips cabinet stereo. Shiny ornaments, pine needles and tinsel littered the red wall-to-wall carpet, which suddenly had a big dark wet spot on it.
My dad laughed. For what seemed like the first time in days, my father laughed hard and long and I knew immediately that our benighted Charlie Brown tree was the best Christmas gift ever.
We eventually resurrected the tree; and my mom got out of hospital in time to spend Christmas day at home, but I’ll never forget the night the tree fell, as well as tons of other events from that same period of my life.
And here’s why.
I have a time machine. I keep it in the living room, right beside our fireplace. You wouldn’t know it’s a time machine by looking, but that’s part of its magic. I now own the very same red chair that my father was in, more than 40 years ago, when the tree tumbled down.
When I sit there, it takes less than a second to travel back to my teen years. So it’s dead easy to recall, in painful detail, everything about being a teenager.
Including what it was like knowing “everybody’s getting lucky but me.”
Or that I, and I alone, had perfect taste in movies and music. I also knew what our schools should really be teaching; indeed I knew, well, everything. As did my friends. Including the fact that mom and dad were so old they couldn’t understand squat. (I’d recommend that if you know a teen who doesn’t believe she or he is smarter than you, get them medical attention.)
For example, my dad wasn’t smart enough to “get” long hair on boys. He didn’t understand that a sophisticated dude like me needed long hair.
Lucky for me he wasn’t heavy-handed, so I kept my greasy hair as uncut as I wanted. But I must tell you, when I was 17, the anti-long-hair forces scored a huge victory. (That sound you hear? It’s the machine warming up again.)
My older sister Charlene, who had already finished nursing school, gotten married and given birth to my nephew Allan, was visiting our family home. Allan was two.
He and I were wrestling on the living room floor, and my dad was in his chair, watching. At one point, I was lying on my back and two-year-old Allan was straddling my chest. He looked down into my eyes and asked, in all innocence, in his baby voice, “Peter, are you a boy or a girl?”
Dad laughed as hard as he did as when the tree fell down.
If you’re raising teens and looking for answers, you could do worse than a little time travel. ■
Peter has four brothers, four sisters, one wife, two daughters and a son, the last three of which all recently graduated from teenagehood with all their limbs and sanity intact.