Sometimes on winter evenings, my sister and I would contrive our disappearance. In the living room, perhaps with a warming fire between them, our parents would talk about adult things of no interest to us. Bedtime was imminent, we knew. But we also knew that being very quiet — invisible, even — might lull our parents into forgetting.
And so, my sister and I would slip behind the red chair. Angled into the corner where books met wall, we had our secret place. The chair was square and squat, with pebbly orange-red fabric and a large ottoman. And it was massive, big enough for an adult and two girls, in the crooks of a parent’s arms, leaning over the pages of a read-aloud book.
Behind the chair, we were grown up, living away from home, making do with close spaces and few things. Our elbows and knees might bump each other as we set up our kitchen; the lowest bookshelves had a few ornamental saucers from an aunt’s travels. And our bedroom: a baby blanket and a few throw pillows.
We had windows and a view: from one side we could see the piano bench that camouflaged our doorway and the wall of books beyond. From the other side, we could peek through the shelf of a table to see our parents in front of the fireplace. The table lamp was our sunshine, and the sleek clock on the wall our flag.
And we had a skylight: a triangle of air where chair met wall met books.
The dusty upholstery of the chair back sagged a bit into our space. So we would eventually place ourselves with backs to books or wall, our legs overlapping in the center.
Although for us the fun of “playing house” usually bloomed from the setting up, behind the red chair it was different. This was a place where everything was tiny, permanent and ours.
Back there I found Dad’s miniature poetry books. I read them avidly and only there.
In fact, looking back, I realize that behind the red chair I encountered wisdom that continues to guide me. There, behind the red chair, I longed to be “fretless and free.” So too today.
And there also I came to believe that “God’s in his kingdom; all’s right with there world.” Yes, even now.
I still have Dad’s tiny book of Robert Browning’s poems, and I suppose I’ll check my memory of those lines. Or not.
But I do know that in that place, at that moment, I experienced a deep quiet contentment. My sister and I, separate but close; the murmur of our parents’ voices; the ticking of the clock; the illusion of being all grown up, far away and still lovingly connected to our parents and home.
When eventually Mom or Dad would peer through our skylight and call us to bed, I was stiff, sleepy and grateful to return to the four-point life of Mom, Dad, sister and me. But always I knew that behind the red chair was a place where I could return, in mind or spirit, whenever I needed a dusty bit of sanctuary.
Further reading from Robert Browning:
An excerpt from Pippa Passes, lines 212-220
“[From without is heard the voice of Pippa singing—
The year’s at the spring // And day’s at the morn; // Morning’s at seven; // The hillside’s dew-pearled;
The lark’s on the wing; // The snail’s on the thorn: // God’s in his heaven— // All’s right with the world!”
An excerpt from Pisgah-Sights 3.
“Good, to forgive; // Best, to forget; // Living, we fret; // Dying, we live. Fretless and free, //Soul, clap thy pinion! // Earth have dominion, // Body, o’er thee!”
I wrote this piece for Five Minute Friday, a faith-based community blogging site at https://fiveminutefriday.com/2019/03/14/fmf-writing-prompt-link-up-place/ Scroll all the way down and check out the other short essays on the topic of “Place.”