How Naugahyde Helped Kitchen Chairs Stay in a Jewish Family for Generations

'Iron' Covering Survived Moves From Coast to Coast and Back

Kurt Hoffman

By Leah Garchik

Published October 16, 2013, issue of October 18, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

One of my mother’s favorite Yiddish proverbs was, “You can’t sit on two horses with one behind.” A fine observation, but growing up in Brooklyn, sitting on even one was unlikely. My own steed was the lid of a sewing machine, a rounded wooden case shaped like a covered bridge with curved corners. Heigh-ho, Singer.

As for places to sit, I mostly perched on the kitchen chairs in our two-family home on 58th Street. The landlords, my grandparents, lived upstairs and never raised the rent. The deal was that my mother would be nearby and available as her parents grew older.

There were four sturdy chairs in our kitchen, and four slightly different ones in my grandparents’ kitchen. On one of those chairs, my grandmother bent over that Singer, narrowing the legs of my dungarees and sewing aprons to be presented to my teachers as Christmas gifts, or practicing her signature on torn-off scraps of paper grocery bags. (She could neither read nor write.)

This was the ’50s. Families making the upwardly mobile leap from Brooklyn to Long Island were furnishing the kitchens in their split-levels with Formica and chrome, shiny mid-century splendor.

We stayed put and stuck with wood. “You couldn’t buy chairs like that today,” adults in my family said, at exactly the time when other people were throwing chairs like that away.

I was in elementary school when my mother brought up the notion of refurbishing the kitchen furniture. The response was certainly cool. My grandfather said that whatever was to be replaced was “good enough,” his typical rejoinder to any such proposal.

But my mother, the executive in charge of 58th Street home improvements, had clout. It had been she, after all, who had ordered the wallpapering of the kitchen ceiling, an endeavor deemed even more successful because the paperhanger had prophesied it wouldn’t last through the night. “Next morning, it was still there,” she liked to remind us.

After a few month’s discussion, my mother was taken seriously. The framework of the furniture was OK, but the wood was dark brown, mottled and rough. The seats, dark red plastic, were stretched and puckered in the middle, frayed at the corners, and dotted with cigarette holes left by a house full of smokers.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “Look, on the one hand, I understand him,” says Rivka Ben-Pazi, a niece of Elchanan Hameiri, the boy that Henk Zanoli saved. “He had a family tragedy.” But on the other hand, she said, “I think he was wrong.” What do you think?
  • How about a side of Hitler with your spaghetti?
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.