The Chairs

Growing up in our family of five, money was short, so my mum used to supplement my dad’s wages by sewing curtains at home. Our former living room became her sewing space, with the dining kitchen at the heart of our home.

Every day we feasted on homemade food and American TV imports. After lunch, with no video player or (of course) internet, it was a choice of afternoon westerns (my mum’s Saturday choice) or weekday American imports, from Falcon Crest to Knight Rider.

Being the youngest came with special privileges, like extra time on the one comfy lounger chair, feeling all cosy under a homemade quilt in winter, with nothing much to worry about – as it should be when you are a child.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and so, despite my rose-tinted glasses, I recognise that my childhood was different from the one I would have given my children: too much overprotection, too many hours indoors, watching TV, not enough responsibilities. But we were never short of the magic ingredient: love.

Because history is well and truly alive in everything we do. Because erasing the past would be an impossible task, so we can only aim for clear mind, open heart and flexible compass that would allow us to negotiate our present and build our future every day ahead. 

One summer, you could tell one of the dining chairs was on its way out. Because the chairs got termites, so the wood was falling apart. My parents were working-class folks: no holidays abroad, no unnecessary expenses, and my sister was the first one in our family to go to university. So it should come as no surprise that they had no savings or contingency plans to buy a new furniture set, and were also wary of bank loans or overdrafts.  

What to do about the chairs? My mum bought a spray and used it on the chairs. It was supposed to stop the unwanted invasion (but it only temporarily halted.) Then we waited and adapted to the new circumstances: avoided using the most damaged chair, sat carefully on the chairs. A few years later, we inherited second hand furniture from close relatives, and with that, we said goodbye to the chairs – except that as a symbol, they live in my memory.

From those beginnings came a horror of living beyond my means. It planted the seed of buying reduced food and supermarkets own brands, of getting bargain toys of charity shops, or wearing my coat until it falls apart and owning just three pairs of shoes: one for winter, one for summer, one for the rest of the year. Saving up to purchase things is still an impossible dream, but one I always strive towards. And, having married someone brought up in a middle-class household whose views are no less entrenched than yours, money, as you can guess, is a sticking point in arguments.

Rightly or wrongly, our upbringing has shaped who we are, and we must acknowledge this. Because our paths have converged but our pasts will never disappear from sight. Because history is well and truly alive in everything we do. Because erasing the past would be an impossible task, so we can only aim for clear mind, open heart and flexible compass that would allow us to negotiate our present and build our future every day ahead. 

-Eva Oliver

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Eva Oliver is a communications professional and mum. She lives in the UK with her family. She has been writing all her life, both in Spanish (her mother tongue) and English. Eva often delves into non-fiction and memoir to explore issues around identity, disabilities and inclusion, and the challenges that our society faces.  She blogs on The Critical Thought https://thecriticalthought.wordpress.com/