By Tim Hayes
The first time I noticed it, we were carting a nine-month-old baby to the pediatrician. Our firstborn, fussing and crying in her little car-seat contraption in the rear of the station wagon, just a couple of weeks after we had moved back to Pittsburgh, our hometown, following an eight-year career-building sojourn all over the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
So, with all of these new experiences happening at once, when I first caught sight of it, way up there in the trees, it threw me for a loop.
High, high up in a 100-foot tree along the side of this two-lane blacktop in suburban Pittsburgh – way out, extended far on some thin branches – rested a small wooden platform and sitting on top of it, a white, molded-plastic lawn chair I dubbed the “Sky Chair.”
“What in the world is a chair doing that far up in a tree, and that far out on those branches?” I wondered. “A person couldn’t possibly sit up there. That thing wouldn’t support the weight of even a little kid. And how – or why – would a little kid even get up and out that far?” The whole thing made absolutely no sense.
But the curse of unending curiosity had been implanted in my brain with that first spotting of the Sky Chair. Over the next 20-plus years, with three kids in tow, we drove that two-lane blacktop road literally hundreds of times to that pediatrician’s office and back home again. And the Sky Chair remained ever atop its aerial perch.
Think of it. Two decades of driving rainstorms, lightning strikes, microbursts of powerful wind, feet of snowfall accumulation, hot sunrays baking it. Yet that crazy chair never fell, never even moved. And do you think I ever saw a human being up there, tending to it? Replacing it? Sitting on it?
Never. That ramshackle lawn chair, I started to think, would survive a nuclear explosion. It would outlive the cockroach. The human race could disappear, a new ice age could begin, and a million years from now, some bi-ped future dinosaur would be sipping a daiquiri, reading a newspaper, sitting on that freaking Sky Chair – which, by that point, would most likely be at ground level.
Heroes can be hard to come by. Mine were Roberto Clemente, Fred Rogers, and that unsinkable, unbreakable, unbelievable Sky Chair. It came to represent something important, something big. It turned into a metaphor for surviving whatever came down the road. Planted firmly on its sturdy platform, serving as a sentinel high above the people zooming to and fro beneath its lofty post, the Sky Chair came to represent permanence and stability in a world of constant change.
In a strange way, at least in my strange mind, it helped keep things in perspective as we worked to provide for our family through job losses, serious illnesses, tight finances, and all of the many challenges parents face as they evolve from rookies to experienced veterans of the child-rearing wars.
In time, the kids grew up, went away to college, started building their own lives. Our final trip to the pediatrician happened quite a few years ago.
One day, traveling along that same two-lane blacktop on the way to a different destination, I looked up in the hope of catching a glimpse of my longtime lodestar again. But it wasn’t there. And, much in the same way as when I first saw it, its absence threw me for a loop. The Sky Chair, gone. Inconceivable, impossible, unacceptable.
Then, another thought came to me. Maybe it had never been there in the first place. Maybe it only existed in the mind of a nervous young inexperienced father, worried about his little baby daughter being sick. And maybe it stayed there, purely willed into being, like a needed fixed point of reference and reassurance, as his family grew and grew up. And now that they had all matured into intelligent, responsible, funny, confident, successful adults, maybe the Sky Chair simply had served its purpose and faded from view.
Maybe. I guess we’ll never know. But real or not, I’m grateful I could see it there, way up in that tree, all those years.
Copyright 2017 Timothy P. Hayes