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Column: If only the chair could talk

Katie Pinke's grandma sits in a chair bought by her mother in the '40s after the war, when there were better times. (Katie Pinke/Agweek Publisher)

My grandma came to visit us last week. While chatting at one point, I was sitting in a pink chair that once belonged to my dad's grandma. I mentioned that I plan to have it reupholstered this winter. Then I went to my office and came out with an armchair and set it in front of our fireplace. My grandma smiled and said, "And that was my mother's. She bought in the '40s after the war, when there were better times."

A chair that once represented better times for my great-grandparents as well as for our entire country suddenly meant more to me. As my grandma and I visited, I learned a rocker that's also in my house is part of the set my great-grandma bought after the war.

I sat in the chair and thought of the 1920s, the stock market crash, the terrible struggles of the 1930s, World War II and then finally it all coming to an end. I let my mind wander and thought about my grandma and her siblings. I started to ask her questions — I enjoy soaking up her stories.

My grandma's memories of life before the war in the 1930s were of difficult times. She never went without food and clothes, though. For the most part, their furniture was left from my grandma's grandparents who lived in the farmhouse before them. In the 1940s, crop conditions and prices, and farming in general, were better. In those times, everything was saved and nothing was wasted.

It wasn't until I sat in the chair during that particular visit with my grandma that I realized the extent of "everything" that was saved. For example, bacon fat was saved and the renderings from butchering were taken to the meat locker in town and then eventually given to the government. One pound of fat contained enough glycerin to supposedly make about one pound of explosives. Bacon fat was used to make bombs. Hearing the stories gave me a glimpse into the sacrifices that were made to save anything and everything — something I won't likely experience in my lifetime.

My great-grandma and many others across the U.S. had a patriotic duty to do what they could. These days, most of my generation would consider it a life of hardship to scrape and save like my grandma and previous generations did. For those generations, that was the only life they knew, and they did everything in their power to preserve their freedoms and way of life.

I'm not sure where my grandparents bought the armchair and rocking chair. They might have bought them off a train when it came "into town," to Aneta, N.D., which had a furniture store, or 20 miles south to Cooperstown. Or maybe they traveled 60 miles to Grand Forks, which is where they married in 1927, to purchase the chairs.

My great-grandma, Esther, died when I was 20 years old. At the time, I was in need of furniture. As my grandma cleaned out her farmhouse, she offered me a few furniture pieces. I have my great-grandma's dining room set, end tables and china cabinet, which all say "Ethan Allen 1967" in her handwriting on the back. Each piece is Queen Anne style, and as my grandma said, "She thought they were so fancy."

This furniture represents so much more than old, family hand-me-downs. The chairs symbolize better times. The fancy dining room furniture was purchased and kept with care. As we visited, my grandma laughed and said, "Old furniture never seems to disappear in our family."

She's right — and I plan to treasure it, then hand it off to a next generation and share the story of better times.