There are few stories that I’ve come across since working in retail, that I would consider an absolute honour to tell. About a week ago, I met a woman that presented me with one such opportunity. However, in order to tell this story well, I need to start further back than last week.
It was in the 1970s, the Vietnam War was taking America by storm and many of her sons from home. Steve Bronkema was drafted into service, leaving his wife, Mary, and young daughter, Stacie, back in Michigan. Stacie was too young to understand what it meant for her “soldier daddy” to be so far from home and Mary wasn’t sure if Steve would ever make it back.
Mary decided that she and Stacie needed to do something for Steve for when he would return from war. They went to a furniture store in Sparta and found a beautiful “Sleepy Hollow” chair. With the war going on, the Bronkemas were living on food stamps and couldn’t reasonably spend their money on a chair, but Mary wanted Steve to have something extra special to come home to. She felt that by investing so much in this goal, it would have to mean that her husband would make it. The chair cost $300 and the furniture salesman allowed Mary and Stacie to make weekly payments until it was paid off.
Stacie would find a quarter on the sidewalk and use it to pay for her “soldier daddy’s chair.” The most they paid at a time was $3 but the kind salesman treated it as though it was $100. And after months and months, the Sleepy Hollow chair was delivered to the Bronkema’s home. Stacie watched as the chair was being brought into their house letting everyone know that no one was to sit in that chair as it was only for her soldier daddy. She and her doll, “Baby Love” would look after the chair and wait for the day Steve would return to see his special spot.
Steve did return, and after spending his days in a truck in a dirt field in Germany, he got to spend them with his girls, at home, in his soldier daddy chair. This chair would remain with the Bronkemas in all of their homes up until their current one. The chair was worn from extensive use and served its purpose for a good 20 years or so. Mary and Steve tried finding another one, but found out that those chairs were no longer made. The rarity of this chair was made clear after spending years of searching, they finally had to give up hope of finding a Sleepy Hollow Chair.
About a month ago, Mary was walking around our furniture area in Gild the Lily as she does every few weeks. She was turning around a corner when something caught her eye. It was a foot stool that could only belong to a Sleepy Hollow chair. She looked up and to her amazement, saw an exact likeness to her husband’s special chair. The piece was in mint condition and was the same colour and size as her old one. We were selling this chair for $300.
Mary started crying when she took in this sight. Sandi, our furniture expert, told Mary that a piece such as this one was called a “Survivor Piece.” These chairs were made only in Michigan and only for a short period of time. Without hesitation, Mary bought the new chair and took it home, where it now sits in the library, next to a picture of the original soldier daddy chair.
Whilst I listened to Mary tell this story to me last week, I watched Steve as he walked through the store subtly wipe some tears away. Mary too, was tearing up and I was fighting the urge as I wrote their story down.
I have worked in consignment for about 8 years now and have never come across anything like this. It makes me wonder about the pieces we do get in. What is simply a chair to one person, is a family member to another. I think what truly drew me to this story was the simplicity in Mary and Stacie’s gift. A special spot for Steve when he returned. I know that Mary and her family will continue to share this story with those they come in contact with, and we at Gild the Lily will not easily forget it. After all, stories are best told by the survivors.