If you’ve known me long enough, you know there are few things I get attached to. When I had my dog, Cracker, and my horses, I was definitely attached to them, but I don’t (and didn’t) count them as “things.” I define “things” as just that—inanimate objects.
I’ve never had a lot of things because I’ve never had enough money to acquire such. This is not a complaint at all. I spent whatever money I had on what mattered to me most—my dog, my horses, and my friends (that’s code for eating and drinking).
As a “horse girl,” I was accused of being a “gypsy” a lot. I always slapped back with, “A rolling stone gathers no moss!” Somehow it was better to be a rolling stone than a gypsy.
I had a dog, a horse, and a truck. What more does a girl need when she’s a rolling stone? Except there was that one thing I owned.
I was a freshman in college when my Uncle Red died. He wasn’t actually my uncle. He was my mom’s uncle. With his wife, my Aunt Sis, they were like an extra set of super fun grandparents when I was growing up.
Upon Uncle Red’s death, “The Chair” was left to my mom, but I picked the chair up since it was located in Blacksburg, VA, only two and a half hours away from school.
I can tell you with 100% certainty, I was the only freshman to have an old, Victorian, wingback chair in her dorm room.
Despite still being considered beautiful, the chair was worn and faded, and wasn’t worth a lot. Its true value lied solely in sentimentalism. My Aunt Sis had needlepointed the chair herself. (Looking at the chair even now, this still blows my mind. I wouldn’t have the patience for one square inch of that.).
Nothing stops a rolling stone faster than sentimentalism.
All of a sudden, I had a “thing” that I cared about.
When I left college, I headed straight for Fox Covert Farm in Middleburg. Even though I was only a working student (Jimmy affectionately referred to this as being the “F.N.G.” If you don’t know what that stands for, ask Google.), it was the beginning of my life as a professional equestrian (aka a gypsy).
Luckily, I saw the inside of the cottage I would be sharing with other girls before I moved there. The furnishings had seen much worse than just the front lawn, long before I arrived. This is my way of confessing to the “garden party” we had one night. We had the decency to pull it all back in before it got rained on though. (We weren’t animals).
In reality, we were scared Jimmy would find out. Not much got past Jimmy in those days, as hard as we tried, but he never found out about our garden party. I think…
As a result, I left the chair in Lynchburg for good measure. A great friend (a horse lady from the barn, naturally) stored the chair in a guest bedroom inside the beautiful house she and her husband owned. The chair lived there for the next six years. (Umm, at least that).
Looking back, I probably should have left it for another six or seven years. Or paid rent on it. All I can say is, “Thank you, Sharon and David.”
After its comfortable stay at Sharon and David’s, the chair quickly fell into my life as a rolling stone.
Luckily, it fit in the backseat of my Honda Civic, along with the rest of my “possessions.” I’m sure you can picture it. Cracker in his fleece dog bed up front in the passenger seat, like a king, and all of my clothes piled on the floor up front, and around the chair in the back.
When people say “the horse life” is glamorous, this is exactly what they’re talking about.
Nowadays, I’m much less of a rolling stone. I’m still accused of being a minimalist, and that’s probably true. I am. But I still have the chair, and weirdly, it reminds me of all the places I’ve been, the crazy life I’ve had, and also, about the couple who gave the chair its value—my Uncle Red and Aunt Sis.
Aunt Sis was my maternal grandfather’s sister. Her real name was Naomi, but she was always called “Sis” as a kid and it stuck. Everyone in that family had nicknames. Sis’ brother, my grandfather, was known as “Dr. Quack.” Their brother, another “uncle” of mine, was called “Uncle Pie.” I asked my mom how Pie got that nickname. She said he liked pie.
I guess he liked it a lot.
My grandfather was called “Dr. Quack” because he had wanted to go to medical school, but couldn’t afford it. He became a pharmacist instead. They ribbed him for being a “fake doctor.”
Aunt Sis met my Uncle Red when she was a student at Catawba College. Catawba is located in Salisbury, NC where my mom’s family is from. Uncle Red was there coaching both the men’s basketball and baseball teams.
My Uncle Red was quite the character, a born storyteller. His given name was Greene Flake Laird. He was either known as “Flake,” or “Red,” which came from his bright red hair. Being so tall, he was hard to miss.
Uncle Red was quite the athlete growing up. When he attended Davidson College, he lettered in football, baseball, and basketball. He earned twelve varsity letters in total. When he graduated, he accepted his first coaching gig, which was at Catawba.
After they married, Red and Sis went to Virginia Tech, then known as V.P.I. He coached their baseball team for the next thirty years, with the exception of a five-year break (1943-1948) when he served as a U.S. Naval officer. He became known as “Mr. Baseball” there. Red also coached their basketball team as well, though I’m not sure for how long.
His list of accolades is long. In 1971, Red was inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. In 1983, into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame, and in 2015, he was inducted into Davidson’s Athletics Hall of Fame, posthumously, for football, baseball, basketball, as well as for coaching. He coached their basketball team from 1931-1937 (and also coached the baseball team during some of that time). My mom, brother and I attended the induction ceremony at Davidson, as well as a handful of Uncle Red’s family on the other side of the family tree.
As a family, we spent many Thanksgivings with Aunt Sis and Uncle Red. Virginia Tech (then V.P.I.) played V.M.I. on Thanksgiving Day, and since both schools were military, there was a lot of pomp-and-circumstance, at half-time especially. I remember sitting (running around) next to the playing field during the games as a guest of the coach.
Sis and Red might have been our family, but we weren’t their kids. My mom wasn’t even their kid. They didn’t have kids, but their generosity and love for their siblings’ kids, and their siblings’ kid’s kids, was endless. I asked my mom if they tried having kids, or wanted kids, but she didn’t know.
Reminiscing, she did say,
“Uncle Red taught me to play baseball and tennis, and took me fishing—both for trout in the lake as well as deep sea fishing.
As far as kids went, for several years in the summer, they ran a camp for boys which included the full range of activities, including horses.
Also, when there were social events at Virginia Tech, some of the women invited to the events by the men, would stay with Uncle Red and Aunt Sis at their house. They loved having them.”
My mom went on,
“Uncle Red’s players stayed in touch after they graduated, and would invite him to duck hunt or to go fishing. Red and Sis always referred to them as ‘Red’s Boys.’ They stopped by frequently to check in with Coach.”
My own favorite memory of Aunt Sis and Uncle Red was when they came to visit us in New Jersey in the ‘70’s. They took over our kitchen and we made candy together. Uncle Red made peanut brittle from scratch, and Aunt Sis made buttermints. The best part, of course, was eating the goods at the end. More than that though, it was the fact they included us in this process. No doubt I was under their feet with my sticky fingers, but they never got impatient.
Proof that time spent together is time well spent.
Mom said Aunt Sis was an amazing cook and always prepared delicious meals when she visited. Of course, I only remember the candy. While Uncle Red was busy coaching, Aunt Sis was in charge of the alumni dining room at VA Tech and planned and supervised the meals and special events. She had majored in Home-Ec in college, so this was a perfect fit, and she was good at it.
My mom reminded me that we attended their 50th wedding anniversary. I hadn’t remembered that until she said it. I remember visiting “The Land of Little Horses” on the way home, which again, I didn’t realize coincided with the same trip until Mom pointed it out.
All of that about one chair.
While I’ve always been a “look forward” kind of girl, I’m finding myself in a place where I’m starting to look back. (That’s probably obvious with the barrage of posts lately). Maybe this is what happens in middle-age. Maybe this is what happens when you find yourself with enough time, and security, to look back and consider how it all happened. It’s fun to look beyond the time before I even became a “me.”
Even if I’m not so much of a rolling stone anymore, I’m sure I will continue to always be a minimalist. I can still fit everything that matters to me in my RAV-4—Russ … “The Chair”…. a bag of clothes … a bag of Russ’ clothes. There’s even room left for a small fleece dog bed that one day will have its own dog. In the meantime, the chair sits in its corner, and is home to a small, purple dinosaur and a ragged, chewed-up squirrel. More remnants of the past, whose value in now found in sentimentalism, too.