Ruth Russell started writing when her bossy older sister set up a newspaper in their shared bedroom sometime in the
1970s. Since then she has concentrated on memoir stories and personal essays. Her work has appeared in Prick of the
Spindle and is forthcoming in Gold Dust Magazine. She lives in Manhattan and is working on a memoir called â€˜Donâ€™t
Ever Cut Your Hairâ€™ about growing up in Wales in the 1980s. Ruth blogs at http://ruthrussell.wordpress.com/
The Welsh Chair
The Welsh chair sits in the corner of my living room. Shiny, highly polished and the color of fine dark chocolate, it looks tiny
compared to the bulky American furniture that surrounds it. Its slender, slightly tapering legs and spindly crossbars underline
the fact that my ancestors were puny, undernourished Europeans, Wales not being known for its abundance of anything,
even now. The chair dates from about 1840 and was handmade by my great, great grandfather, or so the story goes. It does
turn up in old photographs from time to time, being sat upon by my fierce-looking great grandmother, who is wearing a tall
black Welsh hat and has a woolen shawl draped around her sloping shoulders, or clambered on by my father as an infant, who
looks like a grumpy Shirley Temple with patent black leather shoes and short curly hair.
While I was growing up, the chair sat, dusty and unloved, in a forgotten corner of whatever house we happened to be living in
at the time. Occasionally Dad would notice it and remark on its Welshness, mentioning how his own father had remembered it
sitting in his house in North Wales when he was just a boy. Naturally we were uninterested, both in Dad's stories and in the
chair as anything but a place to put coats or occasionally sit on if other, more comfortable options were unavailable.
When Dad died in 1987 he didn't leave a will, so his sizeable debts and random collection of antiques and junk fell to myself,
my brother and my sister, 19, 16 and 20 at the time. I didn't want the chair, and as the mortgage company promptly
foreclosed when they learned of my father's death, soon I would have nowhere to put it in any case.
I didn't want the chair because on the night Dad was taken to hospital, never to return, I'd sat on it by his side in his shabby
bedroom listening to him gasp.
"I'm dying Ruth, this is it," watching him try to write some final instructions: the cancer we later found he was suffering from
had affected his motor functions so he couldn't work the pen. When he gave me the piece of paper it just had some
desperate squiggles on it, and it got thrown away over the next few days before I could look at it again. I sat on the chair
crying quietly, waiting for the ambulance, while Dad railed in a despairing croak against life, the conservative party who were in
government at the time and, in particular, "that fucking, scumbag bitch" Margaret Thatcher.
He also cursed Wales and the day he ever moved back to "this God-forsaken hell hole." Before he slipped into
unconsciousness he turned towards me and bitterly said his last coherent words: "This place is finished. You should get the
hell out of it," followed rather incongruously by, "and don't ever cut your hair, you or your sister."
The chair finally ended up in the small, brown studio apartment where my sister had been living since leaving home two years
earlier, and I never told her, or anyone else, why I didn't want it. Years later she asked me if I would take it (and some other
relics from that unhappy period) off her hands, as she no longer had enough room for them since her two sons were
beginning to grow up. The chair had been stored in a damp garage so had lost some of its shine: part of the back was
beginning to break away from the rest in soggy splinters and it was missing one of its crossbars, although the seat remained
intact. I wanted to throw it out, but my husband insisted on taking it to a professional furniture restorer, who surprisingly
made it look like a rather impressive genuine antique. The chair sat in my living room in London, with my great grandmother's
Welsh hat placed carefully on the seat, and came with me when I moved to New York. Every time I look at it I remember my
father, who I like to think would approve of the fact that I have both emigrated and kept my hair long.