"One-Cushion Family" - Y Magazine
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Firm, squishy, flamboyant, plain—family couches have supported us through it all.

A family of four plays and lounges around a couch (as well as their cat).
Illustration by Clare Owen/i2iArt.com

Wherever Mom was, we were. In the kitchen. On her king-size bed. As close as we could possibly get to her on the couch. There was never quite enough room, there being only one of her and seven of us, but that, I suppose, is how we became what we now affectionately call a “one-cushion family,” always dogpiling and snuggling up in a disorderly heap.

I remember the green couch. I say green, but really it was a floral affair made up of varying shades of green, with pink flowers thrown in among the leaves. That couch was a refuge during the summer months, when it was too hot outside and air conditioning barely touched the muggy air on the main floor of the house. We would go to the basement, armed with Otter Pops and an assortment of VHS movies, and sit on that couch, loving the long, cool hours spent below ground. After we tired of movies, the pillows and cushions would come off, littering the floor in a methodical kind of chaos. We jumped from cushion to cushion, keeping a close eye on each other to make sure that no one cheated and touched their foot on the imaginary lava of the carpet. The bigger we grew, the bigger the spaces between the cushions got, until the older kids were “too old” and it was just Josh (the almost-youngest child) and me navigating the perils of make-believe rivers of fire.

We graduated from the green couch to a large, beige leather sectional when we moved to the next house. It was, and still is, an exceptional couch, cool to the touch even on hot days and sufficiently overstuffed to swallow you up in a snuggle the second you sit down. It is a bit of a joke in our family, as we have watched visitor after visitor sit down on that couch for a chat only to fall asleep a few minutes later. One of my sisters brought home her college boyfriend for the weekend, but instead of spending time getting to know the family, he sat down on the couch and fell asleep. She did not marry him.

My parents bought new couches when I moved out (as empty nesters are wont to do), and I started collecting my own. The first was a sterile brown sectional provided by campus housing—“the date- impaler,” so named for the sharp piece of metal that protruded from the tattered fabric of one arm. Sadly, there weren’t many dates for it to impale, but eventually, a date became a husband, and we inherited our first set of couches. Plaid, old, and gaudy with one arm that threatened to fall off if pushed too hard. But I loved that they were his and mine, and I loved that they were where we sank, exhausted, when we brought our baby girl home. They saw long nights, sleepy afternoons, and ounce after ounce of spit-up.

When spit-up turned into peanut butter and jam and a new bump appeared on my belly, we traded up—$100 for a sensibly un-plaid couch, perfect for a family of four. That’s the couch we loaded into a moving truck and unloaded a thousand miles later into a home we’d never seen. That’s where our girls jumped and squealed and grew from babies to big girls. That’s where a lot of tears were shed—theirs, his, and mine. And that’s the couch I left behind when life didn’t work out quite as I had planned and it was just the girls and I on the thousand-mile trek back. Starting over.

That big beige sectional of my mother’s was a welcome friend as the three of us pieced ourselves back together. Now I sit on a couch of my very own—teal, vintage, quirky. Wherever I am, my girls are. In the kitchen. On my queen-sized bed. As close as they can get to me on the couch. There are two of them, one of me, and there will always be just enough room.

The author, Brenna Beale, smiles in a portrait

Brenna Beale is pursuing a publishing master’s from the comfort of her couch. 

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In Letters from Home Y Magazine publishes essays by alumni about family-life experiences—as parents, spouses, grandparents, children. Essays should be 700 words and written in first-person voice. Y Magazine will pay $350 for essays published in Letters from Home. Send submissions to lettersfromhome@byu.edu.