An empty chair


As far back as I can remember, it had never visited Flamingo Street. Sure, once or twice it had gotten close. It had gotten really close the previous winter. But with a neighborhood full of kids playing all day and into the night, it was bound to happen. Just didn’t think it would happen to us.
We never gave it much thought. After all, we were just kids. Our days were filled with arguing, fighting, and having fun as brothers and friends normally do. Even so, adults still talked about it from time to time, but only in whispers and behind closed doors.

One warm afternoon in May, the whispers suddenly stopped. Prayers and tears replaced them. An empty chair was delivered to 110 Flamingo Street.
Upon its arrival at our table, everything changed forever.
Our family moved soon after. Dad thought simply by moving, the empty chair would somehow be left behind. He was mistaken.

Us kids, we grew up, moved off to college, and then went on to live our separate lives, but every Christmas we always returned home. The empty chair also returned — placed around our holiday table as a solemn reminder. Not for what was lost, but for what we all still have. Each other.

It has been said by some that I live too much in the past — that I would rather be back there than here. I guess they’re right. But who wouldn’t want to return to a simpler place and time? When the true meaning of Christmas isn’t washed away in an ocean of red and white bows, wrapping paper, and endless ads that now start before Halloween. When family lived just across the road — not across the country.
A time before empty chairs were delivered.

After reading this story, The Wife started to cry. You see, some 40 years ago, an empty chair was delivered to her home too. If asked, I think she too would like to live in the past — a simpler place and time. Sadly, one more Christmas with the entire family together is a gift even Santa can’t bring her down the chimney.
During this holiday season, most people’s thoughts aren’t on an empty chair. They are on the true meaning of Christmas, the time spent with family and friends. My thoughts aren’t on an empty chair either. They are now on five. Over the years that’s how many empty chairs have been delivered to our home. The occupants weren’t just family to us. They were also our closest and dearest friends.

Next week look around the holiday table. Consider yourself blessed if all seats are filled. It is something to truly be thankful for. Next year may not be the same.
Arguments, petty squabbles, and fights from long ago will instantly disappear when an empty chair is delivered to your home. With it, something else will also be delivered — the solemn reminder of just how little time you actually have left to spend together as a family. And the way you look at holidays will then be changed forever.
The same thing happened to us. When an empty chair was delivered to 110 Flamingo Street. Some 45 years ago.
[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is His books are available at]