If you know someone moving into a new home, expanding rather than downsizing, and you have the means and interest in getting a substantial gift may I recommend a chair?
That is the what my Great Aunt Anne offered when I left my 14th Street studio for the apartment with a view of the borough I had just left. It was the best of both worlds, with two subway lines down the block to take me back to Manhattan in twenty minutes while providing more space, trees, West Indian food and neighbors, and a beautiful art deco building in the still mostly ungentrified neighborhood of Prospect Heights. “Back to Brooklyn!” she and my Aunt Dina used to exclaim with amusement, amazed that I was returning to the borough they had long since left behind. But the Brooklyn I moved to was far different from that of the Brownsville tenement in which they and their eight other siblings grew up. It was filled with interesting bustling neighborhoods people eagerly moved to not from. And I was happy to be one of them.
Being the practical person she was, Annie insisted we get a solid comfortable chair that would last, suggesting a La-Z-Boy recliner, and so we went to the local showroom, where we found a floor model at a good price and not being nearly as practical (or prescient of the messes that lay ahead) we thought its light grey-blue fabric was a nice neutral color that would go with anything.
Our Brooklyn apartment was a converted one bedroom – the second bedroom was carved out of what had been a spacious living room, leaving a fairly small common space that was big enough for a sofa, a few small tables and lamps, and Annie’s chair. It was the only piece of furniture that had a name, and it immediately became the favored spot to sit. It was safe enough for an infant, sturdy enough for a toddler or two, an excellent perch for cats (RIP Ginger and Satchmo) and big enough to handle a few grown ups comfortably.
Annie’s chair had an active social life, taking part in dinners and brunches and birthday parties, the bris of both boys, and a friend’s baby shower; offering comfort and support to visiting family and friends and neighbors.
In one group photo there are two friends who have died, one who has advanced Alzheimers and another I’ve lost touch with in the last few years. I am holding an enormous blanket that I assume has a baby inside. Through so many changes: growth and decline, heartache and hopefulness – the chair was like a tree in the landscape, steadfast and unwavering.
But like the rest of us, it started showing its age. I notice in a photo of my mom that the first slipcover was bought when we were still in Brooklyn, hiding all the spills and mishaps it endured, the endless scrubbing of stains that would not come out, the realization that a pale light fabric is not the best choice for a home full of boisterous boys and their friends.
And when we realized that our apartment was no longer big enough to contain those active boys, we moved across the Hudson to the house where we still live. Sadly, Annie died before this happened. She would have been shocked that we were priced out of Brooklyn, and disappointed that I had left the city we both loved so dearly. But her chair made the journey, and even as we added new furniture it remained the favored seat and a constant reminder of her generous spirit.
Annie’s chair continued to tolerate wear and tear of children who turned into teens, outlasting both cats, spending the last decade with a dog. Then in the last year V developed some OCD-like preoccupation with denuding and dismantling the downstairs. He pulled the cushions from the couch, turned the ottoman and dining room chairs sideways, pulled off the tablecloth, and removed the photos from the lovely chest (inherited from one of Anne’s sisters, another great aunt) where they were displayed, and pulled the slipcover off the chair. Each day I would put furniture upright, replace the cushions, put covers back on furniture and with great stubbornness and strength he would undo my efforts, immune to all therapies and interventions to stop this behavior.
At a certain point we just gave up: we learn to pick our battles and given all the other challenges we face, living in what looks like a crime scene became tolerable. The wonderful old family photos were placed in a box, the ottoman (wasabi green, my favorite color) stayed sideways, the table was wiped clean twice a day; eventually the dining chairs stayed upright but Annie’s recliner remained unprotected from a teenager who was incessantly taking things apart or spilling liquids or transporting food he had been told a thousand times to eat at the table. We still sprayed and soaked and scrubbed and tried to make it presentable but the chair had become an eyesore, irredeemable even to our very forgiving frame of reference.
So after procrastinating for months, I went on Craigslist and found a leather, easy to clean recliner. Annie’s chair -too threadbare to be donated to Veterans, which picks up everything else we let go – will be just another curbside item on bulk pick-up day, thrown into a truck to end up who knows where. To Annie’s chair, like its namesake, May your memory be a blessing.