“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times . . . .”
Thank you, Charles, for that awesome, albeit ominous, beginning to this blog.
How does one begin the story of two couches?
Has one ever been written before this one?
Thirty-five years ago, when my wife and I had only been married a couple of years, my in-laws gave us a matching pair of settees. Each had a maple wood frame and removable cushions for the seat and the back. They were supported on the bottom by several rubbery straps that fit nicely into slits on the front and back of the bottom of the frame.
I think the cushions were originally blue, and we dyed them red. There was a maple end table that could be used to separate the two, forming (if desired) an L-shape (or corner) to the furniture arrangement. My mother-in-law had acquired these from her long-time friend, Jenny, many years before.
Unlike a conventional style couch covered in fabric, these settees showed off a great deal of wood, a feature which I enjoyed very much. The construction was probably not the most hardy you could find, but we appreciated having them. When we moved (as we did several times) they came with us. And with each move, they got weaker and weaker.
Finally, some of the rubbery support straps began failing, the wooden legs loosened, and it wasn’t long after that we ceased sitting on them for any extended period of time. They adorned the living room, but were not really practical for daily use.
Eventually, they were given away. We replaced them with a more modern looking couch and loveseat. It’s hard to part with furniture that has been around a long time, but . . . sometimes it is necessary.
Possibly you’ve considered my next idea before, possibly not. But no doubt you have heard the expression “I wish I had been a fly on the wall.” We usually use this when referring to a private event where we wish we could have an eye witness account. And so . . . I’ve begun to wonder, what if these settees could talk? What tales would they tell?
Or as we sometimes say, “what if walls could talk.”
I don’t know too much about the original family that owned these couches, but if they are anything like my family I can tell you those settees witnessed a good bit of arguing and discontent from time to time; two daughters and a son grew up in that household. As perfect as my in-laws are (I know they might read this), I know that in their home there was family strife, too. When these settees came to our house in Memphis, Tennessee, we were no exception.
Just so you know, I don’t plan to give you the sordid details of our early family life (now some of you may stop reading). Let it suffice to say that “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” For that is the truth of the matter. Just ask the settees.
What concerns me more right now is whether or not I am conscious of the repercussions of my words and actions in my own home. And I would encourage you to examine the same. My friend, Marsha, witnessed the murder-suicide of her father and mother within those sacred walls. And by contrast, my grandson has seen an honest love and genuine commitment to marriage and family within those sacred walls.
And it does make a difference.
What kind of witnesses would the furniture in your house make?
Good furniture is resilient. It can be abused for a long time before it finally wears out and must go away. People are like that, too. For a time. But there is another important similarity. And lest we focus on the negative, let me hasten to mention it.
Furniture, and people . . . can be repaired.
I’m not saying that it is an easy proposition, because it most decidedly is not. And here, persons have the edge. As painful and deeply debilitating as the damage sometimes is, there is always hope. Where wood and fabric can finally reach a point where they are unforgiving, irreparable, damaged beyond salvage, with people – there is always hope.
Settees are totally “and in all other ways” (to borrow a phrase from the Princess Bride) completely passive, much like a human infant. They can be acted upon, but they are not apt to engage in much assertive action themselves. But as human beings grow older, and mature, they can choose to actively participate in their own environment. They can choose to forgive. They can strive to understand. They can decide to accept.
My parents had to reconcile unsettled affairs with their parents. I had to reconcile unsettled affairs with them. My children will have to reconcile unsettled affairs with my wife and me; in fact, we try to do this all the time. If the settees could talk, they would tell you this, but it is no secret.
But I cannot focus solely on the struggles those settees witnessed; there was good as well. Those were some of “the best of times” in our lives. The voices of our newborns were heard within the walls of that home. And there were other countless, meaningful, joyous times as well. Our current furniture enjoys much more peace than the furniture of the past. That goes for our pets, too. And our grown children, and friends.
What would your furniture have to say about your home?
It seems to me that what matters most is not whether you’ve lived perfectly (that is a losing proposition from the get-go), or been flawless in your familial duties (that, too, is a fantasy); rather, that you do indeed learn from your misjudgments (your sins, if you will). That you make amends when they are needed (and they will be), and that change becomes a welcome guest, not an obnoxious intruder.
A settee is never repaired by accident. Nor is a person. But once repaired (as Hemingway said) they may be “stronger in the broken places.”
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way . . . .”