When my parents brought home the family’s new RCA Victor black-and-white television set, they made it clear that it was not to be the center of attention, and as such, it would not be in the living room. That room was for reading the Sunday paper or a good book, entertaining company, and watching the flames flicker in the large brick fireplace.
No, the den was where the television belonged.
The den was added after the house was built. It had a stone-slated floor and long windows spanning the sides. In the far right-hand corner was a glass-paneled door that opened to the outside. The television sat just left of center across from that door, and the curtains behind it were kept drawn so we could see the screen better.
When it came time to get comfortable, there was a little something for everyone: a beige Robsjohn-Gibbings couch of Danish design near the entrance, a black colonial rocking chair by the outside door, and a rather formal wingback armchair in front of the small closet where we stored firewood. But the crown jewel, to me, was to the right of the couch, directly facing the television. It was a chair called Brownie.
This was no ordinary chair. It was an overstuffed club chair, soft and fuzzy and deep chocolate brown. The back was high and rounded at the top, as were the arms. It was so big that two people could nearly fit into it, although my dad assured me it was only for one.
When I was alone in the den—and the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, or my favorite, Wild Bill Hickok and Jingles were on TV—that chair was the best horse anyone could have. OK, so it was no Buckshot (Marshall Hickok’s horse), but when I threw my leg over the back of old Brownie, the den was transformed into the Wild West.
My mental Wild West was a place where sand and cactus ruled. There was no such thing as a bad guy that I couldn’t outride. And with my Mattel Fanner 50 six-gun strapped to my side, there was no one that could outshoot me. Whether standing still or at a full gallop, I was a crack shot. Brownie was fearless, always steady, and never finicky. He never bucked and never tired.
Together we went on too many dangerous adventures to count. (A hero loses track.) Heck, we even rode together through the Civil War, leading the Union Cavalry in a daring raid into the heart of the Confederacy to destroy the railroad line to Vicksburg. You know, like John Wayne did in The Horse Soldiers.
To kick off my adventures, I would carefully roll up my blanket and lay it over Brownie, then take a smaller throw blanket and carefully place it on the middle of his back: my saddle. I used one of my dad’s belts as a bridle and reins. I was prepared for whatever might lay in wait, be it enemy soldiers, mountain lions, or even grizzly bears. On the trail, you had to be alert for everything. The moment you let your guard down or became careless, you could be seriously hurt or even killed.
Often when I was sick and home from school, I would ride Brownie for the entire day. There wasn’t even a need for the television to be on. The house was quiet, as all were out—Mom and Dad at work, my brother in school—and it was just Brownie, me, and my cold. Well, Lassie was there, too (what other name would a young boy give a collie?). Like a pro, she would sometimes run off to our flanks or lag behind to see if we were being followed. But, truth be told, most of the time she was asleep at our feet.
I would stop only to eat the lunch Mom had prepared for me or to drink water from my canteen. Sometimes, I would kick Brownie in the flanks so he’d run like the wind. But other times, I’d lay my head down as I rode, letting Brownie lead the way, so that when I’d wake up we would be at our destination.
As time went by, I noticed he was becoming a bit nicked up, with stuffing showing here and there. And by “stuffing” I of course mean old war wounds and scars from our battles.
One Friday after school, Mom told me she would be busy doing something for Dad, and that my brother had gone to a friend’s house. Why didn’t I go see what was on TV? Well, that was fine with me.
First I geared up, of course. I changed into my jeans and buckskin jacket, then strapped on my six-gun and went to saddle up my trusty horse. But when I entered the den, I was hit with a shock. In Brownie’s usual place sat a modern couch. It had black-and-white stripes and foam- filled pillows.
My Brownie was gone.
I don’t know how long I just stood in the doorway, staring at where Brownie should have been. After a while, Lassie came up to my side and nuzzled my hand, as if she knew how lost and helpless I felt.
I sprinted through the house. “Mom! Mom! Where’s Brownie? I mean—where’s my favorite chair?” When I found her, she smiled, but did not look up, her concentration intently on the papers in front of her. “Your dad and I found a great couch, so we got rid of that old, beat-up thing. The delivery men were nice enough to cart it away.”
Mom never looked up. She didn’t see how distraught—how lost—I felt in that moment. My Brownie was gone, and without even a chance to say goodbye.
I walked back to my room in a daze. When I got there, I removed my holster and six-gun and hung them up on the wall. I took off my buckskin jacket and said quietly, “Bye, Brownie.” Then I grabbed the basketball from my closest and headed outside to shoot some hoops.