I like to stare out the window. It’s a relaxing and meditative diversion. Some people experience this by looking heavenward to the stars. Or by sitting in front of an aquarium filled with exotic tropical fish. Others like to watch the tides roll in. But I’m a window gazer. A peaceful tranquility washes over me whenever I sit in front of a window. And look out.
Little back story. In our house at 204 there was always a chair in front of the living room window. Or at least from the time the house was renovated and a large picture window replaced the small wartime paned version. This window cried out for a comfy chair and a place to watch the world outside. With this in mind, Ma arranged the furniture so that there was always such a chair. And within arms reach, the treasured pedestal table with its sundry potted plants over the years, and always a coaster conveniently placed to support a cup of tea or coffee, glass of milk or Pepsi.
It wasn’t exactly a big world to gaze upon. Not like looking up at the infinite sky on a clear August night. But it was my world for many years. This was the cherished spot where I honed my observational deftness. Even long after I had flown the nest I loved to return to the chair by the window. To daydream. To reflect. Or rest. Often to recover from the battlefield of life.
Over the years, several different chairs occupied the space next to the window. They all had a few things in common. First and foremost, the color orange was represented in them somewhere. Solid, tweed, plaid or striped. Ma used to say that she loved color and she wasn’t kidding. And when it came to decorating our living room, orange was undeniably her color of choice. Something I never fully appreciated until I looked at Ma’s albums filled with scads of photos of family and friends taken on the various chairs. Not only orange chairs. But Curtains. Lampshades. And wall to wall carpet. It was a dizzying sea of riotous color. Autumn lived perpetually in our living room.
On the outside Ma was a quiet, soft-spoken demure woman. But if a person’s color preference reveals anything about their true character, than Ma’s interior spaces were filled with fire, passion and fervency. She was a courageous artist fearlessly expressing herself in the boldest of possible ways. Orange.
This common thread of orange aside, these chairs all rocked and swiveled. This made them very practical because you could position them in any direction depending on the need. They provided a 360 degree panorama of our downstairs. Swivel slight to the left for television viewing. To the centre back and you could watch all the kitchen activities, in particular Ma cooking up something spectacular. To the right and you could engage in lively conversation with whomever was on the couch. And centre front, there was the view of our street.
These chairs were also enormously fun. Swivel and rock in a full circle. One way and then the other. They turned us all into whirling dervishes. Spinning tops. Every bit as good as the old leather and chrome stools at the food counter in the basement restaurant at Eaton’s. Giggles and glee. Tee-hee! Plus, they were all so comfortable you never wanted to leave. No matter what was going on in my life, whenever I sat in the orange chair by the window everything was right with the world.
In truth, there wasn’t a whole lot to see out of that window. Mostly just the houses across the street. The mauve lilac that grew on the edge of our lawn next to the lumpy sidewalk and the Manitoba Maple on the boulevard. I watched it grow from a tiny sapling to a magnificent old sentry watching over our little wartime house. In summer it shaded our front yard. In fall it graced us with glorious red, orange and yellow leaves that danced and quivered in the wind. In winter it held strong and steady while the snow collected on its barren branches. In spring came the buds of hope and great expectations.
One summer the city added cement curbs and paved the street. We were delighted to say goodbye to the pot holes and annual tarring of our road. I have to admit though that the smell of tar triggers happy memories of childhood summers. It’s right up there with the scent of Coppertone, freshly mowed lawns, wild roses and hot rubber hoses.
One of my fondest memories is from the winter. I was home visiting over the Christmas holidays with my two older kids in tow. It was a large blue sky afternoon. The kind that only Northwestern Ontario can produce. Nothing quite like it anywhere I’ve been. On this particular afternoon Ma got a call from her sister Hazel to go over to the mall for the afternoon. Ma rarely turned down an opportunity to go for an outing. It didn’t really matter where. I sat in the orange swivel rocking chair by the window and watched Ma as she stood in the driveway waiting for her sister to come pick her up. The snow was crisp and clean. The snow banks were so high on either side of the window that they dwarfed Ma’s already small frame. She was wearing her gray fake fur coat. I don’t know what animal it was imitating. Her purse was draped across her chest. While she was waiting she traced the snow with the toe of her boot like a windshield wiper. Back and forth. Every now and then she would pause and look down the street for Auntie Hazel’s car. Her cheeks were blushed red from the cold air and her dark eyes were so bright and alive. I had to remind myself that she was in her seventies. She looked like a young girl. Full of life and eagerness. I will always remember her that way. And how the sight of her touched my heart with such tenderness.
In my room, the place where I write and dream, my computer sits in front of the window overlooking our beautifully imperfect garden, which is green and lush at the moment. Teeming with birds, squirrels and dragonflies, the occasional deer, raccoon, duck or heron. When I window gaze here I also see another time and place. I’m transported to an orange swivel rocking chair that sits by a picture window. It hugs me. It holds me when my heart is heavy. It comforts me when I’m full of fear and lost all hope. It rocks and swivels me to a place of peace. I see the street where I grew up. Played scrub ball. Rode my bike. Scraped my knee. Ran under the sprinkler. Sat on the neighbors front step and shared a first kiss. I see the place under the maple tree where I sat in the shade and drank Pepsi. I see the tarry road and the dreams of other roads to travel. I see The Old Man tending to his garden. Raking leaves. Shoveling snow. Blowing his nose in a big white cotton hanky. I see Ma waiting for Auntie Hazel. I see God’s hand reaching out and touching all of it with wonder and grace. I see love in the large blue sky. I am cradled in my mother’s arms.