As the result of being born into a military family, I was raised in different corners of the world. This meant that I lacked the connection to my extended family that most people take for granted. It was as a preteen that I suddenly found myself permanently rooted in my father’s hometown of Colorado Springs. This meant that at long last I would discover my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Little did I know just what an assortment of eccentric personalities I was about to meet!
Walking into my Aunt Rose and Uncle Tom’s house for the first time; I was captivated by just how orderly their physical existence appeared to be. Everything had a place and not so much as a throw pillow was out-of-place! This was in stark contrast to the more casual household kept by my parents. Given that I was nine years old at the time, the impression made on me must have been profound.
Aunt Rose was a woman who came of age in the early 1950s. The problem is that she somehow never left that era. Time marched on for everybody, with the exception of Aunt Rose. She wore a carefully hair-sprayed hair style that never changed. I can still picture her cat eye glasses perched on the narrow bridge of her long nose. That I know of, she never owned a pair of slacks; deferring to simple knee-length dresses and skirts. Aunt Rose lived to be the model wife and the textbook mother; a badge of honor that she wore most proudly!
Christmas at Aunt Rose’s house was a borderline antiseptic experience. It was as if you were trapped in a snow globe manufactured in 1957. The Christmas tree was a white aluminum affair, replete with simple reflective glass ball ornaments. There was no tinsel, no colored lights, and no garland. Off to the side was a spotlight, focused on the stark white metal tree. A wheel spun in front of the light; slowly casting alternating red, blue, yellow, and green hues onto the otherwise colorless tree. All of the uniformly sized packages under the tree were perfectly wrapped in reflective silver paper; the color of the bow and ribbon indicating who the intended recipient was.
Aunt Rose’s time-space continuum self-imprisonment was not just reserved for the holidays. Her obsessive sense of order and practicality extended to every nook and cranny of her well-planned life. That even carried over to her relationship with furniture!
I was thoroughly excited when we entered the house and I saw Aunt Rose and Uncle Tom’s new couch, still neatly wrapped in plastic. My enthusiasm was quickly curbed as my mother pulled me aside and informed me that the couch was not new and that it was always covered in clear plastic. My father shot me a well-honed military glare from the corner of his eyes; telegraphing that the discussion was now officially over with.
On the short car ride back home, I was enlightened as to the rationale behind the Saran Wrap encased piece of furniture. Aunt Rose was trying to keep the sofa in perfect condition. The plastic was intended to keep the couch spotless and perfect for company. As a naturally inquisitive child, my next words were “Why, aren’t we company?” My parents exchanged a look of befuddlement and my question went unanswered.
As a species, we have an innate need to keep our valuable possessions in perfect condition; be it a new car, a family heirloom, or even a piece of furniture. All too often we extend this mentality to ourselves as well. How many of us wrap ourselves in plastic, trying to keep things perfect for company? How many of us fear that we will become stained or worn if we lift off that sheet of self-imposed plastic? Are you so wrapped up in making the right impression that you never allow others to see the true you?
Aunt Rose’s couch taught me a valuable life lesson. It is all too easy to hide under what others expect us to be. It is the safe bet and assures that our sense of perfection is preserved! Unfortunately, we end up existing, rather than living. If we spend enough time being what others want us to be, we lose sight of who we truly are. The gifts that we have to share with the world end up entrapped under that clear plastic sheet.
“What about his couch?” you may be asking yourself right now. As I finish up this blog post, I am sitting on that very couch. There are a few worn spots, the occasional stain dots the fabric, and the cushions are getting a tad bit lumpy. It is simply a reflection of my life; lived outside of the confines of a plastic wrapper and shared with the world!