Stephanie Dempsey


My friend Sarah is a former ballroom dancer now divorced ice skating coach and ultra runner who just bought a house and found a roommate for her basement. She was cleaning out her house in a ruthless Sarah-like way and framing a new built in cabinet when I drove to pick up some cookbooks she offered me that rainy Sunday. While I was there and she was showing me (and my daughter who was there because I am teaching her to drive and she is always trying to get hours behind the wheel) her new place, she offered me the chairs. She tried to sell them on CraigsList with no luck and hated to trash them and did I want them? After I agreed to the chairs, Sarah reminded me that they belonged to a table that she tried to give me before that used to belong to her mother before she died from cancer. And if Frankie, her new roommate arriving from Baton Rouge on Tuesday with what fits in the back of her Tacoma doesn’t want it, do I want it? Sarah had no problem parting with these things and I have many problems with saying no. We loaded the chairs into the van and Shae asked too loudly, “Where were they going to go? You just took two van loads of stuff from the basement and the shoe closet to Goodwill. You want to empty the attic.” I don’t even know why I said yes to the cookbooks. I rarely use recipes. An when I do use one, I find it on my phone and then I make substitutions.

I have eleven chairs in my dining room right now. There is only room for four around the table so the other seven ring the room, one has the laptop on it, one has a broken cained seat. The hole goes straight through. I don’t entertain much except for birthday parties. And there are only five of us; the three kids and the dog and me. So the broken chair doesn’t bother me. I have four more chairs on the back porch. Two I trash picked and Shae painted kelly green. They are cute and she could sell them if I ever upholster the seats. The other two are these great rolled back low loungey black pleather chairs from the 6o’s that I found at a thrift store for $25 and want to reupholster. I’ve sewed the busted seams closed with thick white upholstery thread. I don’t really have a place for them so they are stacked in the corner next to an old oak pedestal table I found once in my neighborhood.

There are only couches in my living room and basement but I have also had more than my share of couches in 23 years of adulting. Let me count; the heavy plaid sleeper at our first place together, the red hard couch from the 50’s, that great low blue couch with the shiny fabric, the floral one, the navy blue one we bought as a used set when we bought our home in Fremont, Nebraska while Chris was in law school and I was expecting again, the wicker couch that I recovered twice, the army green one from the DeJacks at Fort Drum that Tommy’s bottle leaked all over. Ann got tired of sopping up his formula from the cushions and opted for a stiff plastic couch and a blanket for Tommy. Tommy, though the oldest, wore diapers and couldn’t speak. She homeschooled the others except for the baby. And just like when she asked if I would babysit, when she asked if I wanted the couch, I said yes. Chris was deployed and I made pillows for it and washed the covers and took care of the kids and watched the snow fall. The couch was by the windows and the kids would stand and look out. When we PCS’d, we took it with us and I tore that couch down to its frame while Chris was away for a week. God there were so many staples. I recovered it with Juicy Courture knit terry I found for $3 a yard at G Street Fabrics. It was my first real upholstery project. It was coral and blue and brown and pieced and patterned and Josie Baker threw up on it a week later during Shae’s first birthday slumber party the spring she turned 8. The kids cried and threw themselves over that couch when I sold it later that year for $50 to some young guy who probably didn’t know what he was getting when he drove up to our yard that night and stuck it in his truck. It was pretty dark out.

And the ones we have now: the grey Ikea and the yellow tufted velvet nine footer we got for free are in the basement and the white velvet tufted with a curved back and the tan low slung one the homeless guy was sitting on that I bought for $15 bucks are in the living room.

Frankie is also an ultra runner that used to live in the area. We raced each other in 2015 at the OSS CIA 50 miler; a hot, humid night race in the middle of June in Prince William Forest near Triangle, Virginia. I won the race the year before, barely beating out Stephanie Wilson who won the year before that. The race is two 25ish mile loops through the forest. I ran it in 2014 as a way to prepare for night running in my first 100 miler. I did not think I would win. Sarah also ran it in 2014 but I wouldn’t meet her until 2017. In 2015 I signed up to run because I thought maybe I could better my time. I did not. It was a hotter and more humid year. There was a route change and a missing water stop and when I made it to the aid station halfway through, I seriously thought about dropping. I wasn’t feeling well. I was chaffing. But then they promised water at the missing stop, it started sprinkling and Frankie came in and prepared to go back out. I left with her and we spent the next 23 miles running and talking like ultra runners do. Talking is what makes the miles fly by. You float along on these little threads and tangents. I don’t remember what we talked about anymore except for the part that she used to bike competitively in Washington or Oregon, she was back in school for something to do with architecture, she was a lesbian and in a relationship that had some problems with her running, and when I told her about my couches, she said I must be bored. At about 46 miles I decided I needed to walk. Frankie continued on. I felt terrible. I went slower and I wished I hadn’t let her go because then I would be done faster. Frankie came in second that year. She beat me by 5 and a half minutes. I was slower by almost an hour. I ended up with a heat injury. It took a few months for me to be able to exert myself without my heart racing and we never ran together again.

I have a set of folding wooden chairs that we bought at a flea market near Watertown. That was the place where we bought two sets of left footed embroidered maryjanes for the girls. I fell in love with the chairs and we paid $10 each for all 12. I am not sure we ever used all of them all at once. Last year when Chris lost his job and lost himself and lost everything else, I started to sell stuff. I sold some of those folding chairs, a chest, shelves, dressers, beds, benches, clothes. I didn’t know if we would have to move. I didn’t want to have to deal with so much stuff if we had to move in a hurry. And I needed money. I sold a gold Hollywood Regency style faux bamboo mirror I found for $200 bucks. I had tried to sell it on Craigslist earlier and learned from my Haywood Wakefield chair experience that if there are a lot of eager buyers, the price is to low. Chris was in and out of rehab and living in the woods and hotels and Air BnB. I was working but not making enough. Rent went unpaid. I qualified for food stamps. I sold more stuff and picked up more stuff on the side of the road just incase.

I think we have 20 chairs in the house right now, not counting the attic or the patio. I know this is too many. When I see them on the road I drive by. Except when I don’t. At work they had a project in mind to make a Thanksgiving scene in the front windows with real chairs. That night on the way home from work I saw seven chairs in the trash piles. I wanted to stop. I especially love old office chairs. I like to reupholster them with ugly plaids and thick velvet. I’ve noted at least three or four perfect projects. But I am a single mom and I work full time; I don’t have time for upholstery and long runs. So I try to be choosey. I am going get rid of Sarah’s mom’s chairs without fixing the caining but I will put them up in the attic first. And when I run, I will run.