It may not be the best, but it's mine
It was an early evening, just after dinner. My wife and I were settling into a night of winter nesting. I was cleaning up after dinner and she, after preparing our meal, had taken to the chair by the window in the living room with her laptop to read.
“How do you sit in this?” she asked, falling into the espresso-brown leather “It’s lost everything. No cushiness. Not firm anymore. It sits so low. Wow.”
“It’s the best seat in the house,” I said, my hand in warm soapy water. “Don’t be dissing my chair.”
Considering lawful possession, the old chair is not truly mine, if you want to nitpick. It was my wife’s before we met. When we got married and I moved into her home, it was already here. It’s her chair, technically. But it’s really not, you see, that supremely lived-in chair is mine, at least by default. I have claimed it. Sure, the dog nestles in now and then, and yes, my wife will take it back now and then. But everyone knows, that’s where I sit, where I read, where I drink coffee. Its edges are somewhat faded now, the leather is shiny along the arms where hands have rested for years. It leans a smidge. And yes, as my wife reminded me, it sits quite low to the ground. Not sure if that’s the result of its many years of use or a perceived reality due to our aging bodies. But I will agree, getting into it, and especially getting out of it, is like doing squats at the gym.
The chair is an American treasure. At the risk of sounding old-fashioned, the history of such a chair is linked to the male figure. Think TV dads and recliners they called their own. There was Sheriff Andy Taylor, Archie Bunker, Robert Young’s character on “Father Knows Best,” Ward Cleaver, even Norm in “Cheers” had his seat at the bar, his very own chair.
The chair also has a history of being rather ratty, torn, and rickety. That usually doesn’t matter, however. What matters is the routine, the psychological comfort, proximity to a TV screen, a bookshelf, a fireplace. Sometimes the chair can be found in the garage, a kind of man cave seat. I had a friend from high school whose father had a ratty green BarcaLounger in his garage next to a hotrod calendar and a neon Iron City Beer light. It was his smoking chair. He’d kick back and inhale his Parliaments with no one there to rag on him.
How did we get to this? How did the chair become a thing?
History shows that having your chair was a sign of privilege, wealth. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Royals had recliners or lounge chairs, not the common peasant. And it became a man’s thing because, well, men in old society ruled. In modern society, the chair was seen as a symbol of success, and by the time TV dads rolled around in the 1950s, it was already established as the place where the breadwinner found rest.
My chair did not come with a certain “success,” or wealth. It just happened. I gravitated to the brown leather chair and over time it was linked directly to me. But unlike some in the past, I’m not possessive about it. I don’t grumble when the dog slides into the leather on the sly. And my wife can “own” it whenever she wishes. After all, it’s really her chair, isn’t it?
As the evening progressed, my wife appeared more and more comfortable in the old chair, tucking a leg up under herself and leaning her elbow on the chair’s wide arm. Its lack of cushion no longer mattered. Its height relationship to the hardwood floor was irrelevant. I had put away the last of the dinner dishes and had taken the seat on the other side of the bay window in a more modern, sleeker chair, a gray oval-backed seat made of fabric and wood. It wasn’t the chair. But it was comfort enough. And how sweet it was to see that the old leather chair was playing no favorites. It was not selfish, not jealous. It gave quiet joy without prejudice. In its own way, the chair, as if a living creature with years of experience giving comfort to those who have sat upon it, had wrapped itself around my wife on a chilly winter night. She was now lost in her reading, the chair embracing her like an old friend.