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Wednesday
Feb062013

Three Sofas

M.F.K. Fisher once wrote an essay entitled, "Three Kitchens in Provence." I know: "Three Sofas in North America," just doesn't have the same ring.  And yet, sofas are a vital component to a comfortable home. A sofa is pretty much the place in a house where everything important, except for sleeping and eating (and often, sleeping and eating), takes place. Sofas are great and I've been really fond of some of my own sofas, at least the ones I've had over the past fifteen years. They seem worth writing about to me.

The first sofa I loved had once been my grandparent's. The style was, I think, French Regency: the sofa was graceful and curvacious, with a wooden frame, nailheads along the periphery, and a beautiful, cream, silk-patterned covering.

When my Canadian husband and I moved to Pennsylvania to join my ex-husband so we could all raise our (my and my ex's) six-year-old son together, the sofa, which had been left behind years before in Utah, travelled out to Pennsylvania with my ex-husband's girlfriend (this is complicated; every damn thing about blended families is complicated).

Once safely installed, it became the nicest thing we owned during those years, but when we (all) moved west to Seattle, we deemed it just too large to transport again, and sold it to some very appreciative, and very lucky, graduate students. I still miss that sofa; most especially the way it reminded me of a childhood's worth of evenings in the 60's, in Utah, sitting with my beloved Greek grandparents on Sundays watching Bonanza and eating orange-filled chocolate fingers.

Our Seattle sofa was a different breed altogether. Suddenly, we were expecting an unexpected baby, my husband and I, and we needed new furniture for our next not-altogether strategic step in the general direction of committed family life. So we went to The Bay, and purchased, on credit, a great, big, warm, ploofy sofa with (shudder) a matching large chair. Let's call the sofa Big Spice. Big Spice was not exactly ugly, but it was a conservative Republican of a sofa, a "couch" sort of sofa, a sofa for settled grownups without much aesthetic judgment. It was certainly not "me" though I didn't know that yet: I was seduced by how comfortable it was and how much it looked like the sofa that could define the life I was trying to create. I was willing, hoping, counting, even, on soon being so secure that I'd be bored with my life rather than anxious about it. Big Spice bored me, and that's probably why I loved it.

In fact, I was so fond of it that I wrote this essay about it; an essay that was as much about working hard, and about surrendering to the endless complexities of family life, as it was about a sofa (couch). Since then, I've given up Big Spice, the husband, the Seattle apartment, and Seattle itself; one child is grown and gone and the other is speeding through her pre-teens. I don't miss the couch, but I do miss the life it represented.

The third of my favorite sofas was a gift to myself after we moved back to Nova Scotia. I made a lot of money that year, and was living in a state of blessed innocence concerning the months just ahead when first my mother and then my father-in-law would die within a month of one another, followed by my business, and finally my marriage. We had sold Big Spice before leaving Seattle—sofas really are too big and expensive to transport long distances. For awhile, we sat on the most hideous couch (definitely, "couch") I have ever seen, a free placeholder piece from a friend's cottage. The couch was covered in some kind of prickly material with an eye-searing pattern of both spots and stripes. And flowers. It was so heavy that the men who brought it up the stairs for us complained of their sore backs, and they were big, big men.

As soon as I could, I replaced it (as in, junked it on the curb) with our next sofa, a simple, clean-lined transitional sofa just deep enough to be comfortable. It was trim, elegant and a most pleasing shade of aqua.

 Now, several years later, I lean toward more neutral colors, but I'd take that sofa back in a heart's flicker. It centered the room it was in, and nudged me fully into an appreciation for the art form that is house design. It made civilized love daily to the butter yellow walls in the living room of that high, light-filled apartment with the bow windows. It was a fine sofa, a sofa that my small daughter was heard (by me) to refer to in these terms when showing a visitor around our apartment: "this is the couch mommy sleeps on every night because she's so lonely since daddy left. (Beat). She loves it like a boyfriend."

When, after a long, hard year in Utah helping my father resettle after my mother's death, we came back once again to Nova Scotia and discovered that our sofa wouldn't fit up the very narrow stairs to our new, very small apartment, I sold it to friends so I could go visit it.

I haven't found the next sofa I'll love, which will probably be a less colorful but more gussied up (think nailheads) version of the last one: a modern sofa to provide counterpoint to the beautiful Victorian chairs I've been collecting. For now, we sit on a simple framed and folded futon in yet another apartment in a suburb outside of NYC where my daughter and I have definitively begun a new life. The aqua sofa could have travelled up the stairs here, but it lives with my friends now. Meanwhile, the futon is comfortable enough, and unobtrusive enough, not to offend. Expensive pillows grace it, it doesn't clash with the brass and glass coffee table or the Asian side table made of bamboo; it sits facing plain walls that we have not yet adorned with anything--a kind of tabula rasa that represents this new chapter's essential condition of anticipatory anythingness.

For now; all of it: it'll do.

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