The Duncan Phyfe Sofa: Guilt’s Rest Spot

As a lass, with a Scottish name and maternally Scottish heritage, I became quickly aquainted with an heirloom from my mother’s mother. 

The Duncan Phyfe sofa. She is a He and He is a She. I see this long upholstered seat with a back and arms, for two or more people, as bearing both qualities of male and female. She has long, ornate, mahogany lines and eases deep and close to the ground. He wears royal blue velvet with intricately tight cording that runs up and down his back and front, giving an appearance of coolness, yet thoughtful and thorough. She holds one’s rear end with strength and tenderness (a slow wink to MHGS) and he meets your back ever so angled and plumply–ready to rest comfortably with you. 

This is turning into a love affair. 

A love affair with this couch, as silly and innocent as it could be, induced the very emotion that caused me to sit on it endlessly, as I remained still and silent. The inner world of this lass seated was tumultuous. I felt imprisoned by “what I’ve done” and doomed by “what could not be undone”. 

Once I saw a man in elastically taut cycling shorts walking by my father’s baseball game. I peered down from the metallic stands that painfully imprinted one’s bottom with lines, denoting the endless sitting due to one inning after another. I wriggled a bit and then, I gandered at his groin region. The spandex skillfully framed it for him, and now for me. I knew it was “wrong” to examine his manly bulge, but the authoritarian wrongness of what I’ve been taught practically caught my eyesight. 

Consequently, this became the framework for my slow, lonely walk to the middle of my living room, which was the middle of our tri-level house, with large windows in the middle of 2 walls. Truly, it was not a hidden place to nurture the ensuing and covert emotion of “what I’ve done,” rather it was the Smith family metropolis with the Duncan Phyfe sofa as centerstage.

Placement, location is always key in understanding one’s narrative.

As I collectively placed myself onto the Duncan Phyfe sofa in the middle of the day, in the middle of my abode, I would be unwaveringly attacked with Guilt. 

“Help, oh please?” Words never muttered aloud nor articulated inside my mind.  I was in the midst of a deeply constricting dilemma that wanted me to stay still, silent, and seated. 

“Alone, oh please.” A constant state of being, for which I loved and hated. I could only understand myself in this mess as Alone and was often crippled by the Guilt to ever think past the aloneness. 

This is where the love affair begins. No one was able to see this debilitating dimension of my world, in which death seemed most relieving as Guilt pursued me recklessly. And, in turn, I pursued it shamefully. The sofa was seemingly the only object close enough to embrace me during those airless moments. It did not swaddle me, but it did hold me.

Yet it could not give me what I really needed. A holding pen of pseudo-comfort was only fostering the Big Bad Wolf of Guilt  for this entrapped, little girl. I needed the guilt insofar as I needed the Duncan Phyfe sofa without anyone else. Just sofa and me–him, her, and me with the myriad of personal stories that supposedly were so bad that I wanted to evaporate and be done with this living.

That which we hate about ourselves or that which we want to be different, often are distracting illusions. Those things–our loathings or our self-ideals–keep us from embracing, with mercy, what we are (or actually might be), need, desire; where we have been disappointed, wounded, and rejected.

Thus, Guilt was my exasperating blanket to cover me from feeling desire or curiosity when I saw the elastically framed man. And, desire or curiosity was, indeed, punitive- merited badness–at least in the world I lived in.

I learned recently that Duncan, the furniture designer changed his name from Fife to Phyfe once he came to America from Scotland. I also remember my lovely grandma explaining her hastiness, as a small lass, to disown her Scottish accent once  she arrived in America due to her classmates’ teasing. Noncey became Nancy as she passed to her daughter a pattern of forgetting for the sake of not feeling. 

And now this meaning ladened sofa has been passed to me. It sits in my Seattle home awaiting redemption and remembrance, I suppose. 

I sit on it as present help for the long gone lass. I feel. I try and remember all the stories internally experienced there, leading me to today with patterns of guilt still catching me and thrusting me elsewhere.

But, I shall see Duncan Fife, Nancy Reid Mathieson, and Heather Marie Smith Stringer as people needing someone who can see a smidge of our internal worlds that are imploring abortion from who we are and what we are experiencing. Don’t alleviate or give us solutions to the dilemma, but step into it with us. Feel with us and, in faith, ask the questions in which we have been too distracted to ask ourselves.


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Filed under beauty, le regard, redemption, Uncategorized

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