“You may have tangible wealth untold:
Caskets of jewels and coffers of gold.
Richer than I you can never be –
I had a Mother who read to me”.
Our Mother read to us. Through the long winter nights she turned page after page and took us on journeys to enchanted places filled with fairy tale castles, dragons, witches, and exotic adventures.
There was one book that was among my favorites. A slim scarlet volume titled GRANNY’S WONDERFUL CHAIR, by Francis Browne – a series of stories with prose so beautiful it reads like poetry. The book is about a little girl left alone by her grandmother. The grandmother tells her “when you feel lonely lay your head gently down on the cushion of the arm-chair, and say “Chair of my grandmother tell me a story.”
Several house moves and the book simply disappeared. I never forgot the book . I looked for it for years. I searched used book stores the length and breadth of Canada. It was printed in England so I searched musty book stores in London and Edinburgh, tiny villages in the south of England and windswept towns in the North of Scotland. To no avail.
Many lives ago in a conversation with a fellow television writer I discovered she had a copy of the book. I offered her $100 for it. At that time a week’s salary. She cherished it as much as I wanted it, and no amount of money could tempt her to part with her copy of GRANNY’S WONDERFUL CHAIR.
More than forty years later I discovered an old bookstore McLeod’s on Pender Street in Vancouver. Again and again I returned to the book store, always leaving with a book but never the one I sought.
McLeod’s children’s book section was to the right of their entrance. I ALWAYS turned right first. One day I saw a tiny red book leaning casually against its friends. I circled the shelf watching the book out of the corner of my eye. My heart beat faster, my mouth was dry, my hands trembled as I finally reached for GRANNY’S WONDERFUL CHAIR.
There’s two parts to this tale of GRANNY’S WONDERFUL CHAIR. Many many years before I found my book my daughter and I attended an estate auction. We had successfully bid on a few items when this magnificent chair came out. It was adorned with needle point and had a matching stool. The frame was elaborately carved mahogany and it had wheels. The chair looked a little well-worn and well-loved. I too fell in love. When I got this most elegant of chairs home I realized what I had done. I had bought Dame Frostyface’s wonderful chair.
“…the only good piece of furniture in the cottage was a great arm-chair with wheels on its feet, a black velvet cushion, and many curious carvings of flowers and fawns on its dark oaken back. On that chair Dame Frostyface sat spinning from morning til night to maintain herself and her granddaughter.”
Francis Browne the author of this book published in 1906 was a poet, and blind.
” Each little tale has its own picturesque setting, its own vividly realized scenery. Her power of visualization would be easy to understand had she become blind in the later years of her life, when the beauties of the physical world were impressed on her mind ; but Frances Browne was blind from infancy.
Whence came her vision of the old woman who weaved her own hair into grey cloth at a crazy loom; of the fortified city in the plain, with cornfields and villages; of floors of ebony and ceilings of silver; of swallows that built-in the eaves while the daisies grew thick at the door”.
I can not but help believe some small bit of magic dust clings to each word I read aloud from this book.
I have the dearest of friend who became extremely ill. I read out loud to her the stories from GRANNY’S WONDERFUL CHAIR . The hospital bed, the pain, seemed to disappear as the words encircled the room and took her to another place.
Like all good fairy tales, this story also had a happy ending.