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.
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After both grandparents died, my parents sold their own kitchen chairs and moved to California with my grandparents’ chairs, because my mother thought their legs more graceful.

My father died a year after the move, but my mother lived another 32 years. She sat in one of the chairs every morning to read the newspaper, and every night to watch “The PBS NewsHour.” Her grandchildren, our sons, dribbled food on the chairs; my sister’s dogs licked them clean.

She was 93 when she suffered the stroke that left her unable to speak. She seemed happiest sitting in one of those chairs, relishing the familiarity of a shared lunch around a set table, a tangible reminder of her life in the kitchen. For a while, friends bearing bouquets and pound cakes came to sit, too. When she became both frail and volatile, they found it too depressing, and then they hardly came at all.

After my mother died, my sister took the chairs. But then my sister became ill, and late last winter, just as the first of the daffodils she had been sure she’d planted too early were pushing up, she died. Of everyone at 58th Street in the Naugahyde Era, I was the only one remaining.

My sister wanted my sons, her nephews, to have her things. So when they were in San Francisco for her memorial service, they chose what would go to Iowa, where our older son lives with his wife, and what would go to Brooklyn, where — much to the surprise of my husband and me, who spent our childhoods dreaming of escape from the borough — our younger son and his wife live.

The chairs are now about a mile from the house on 58th Street.

Just after movers picked them up, an upholsterer who had been recovering an office chair for my sister when she died, told me she’d told him that after the job was completed, she would ask him to “to recover some kitchen chairs, too.”

Among all the things that didn’t get said in time, didn’t get done in time, I don’t regret that the chairs never got recovered. Such a frivolous move, even after 60 years, would have been a rebuke to the decision-makers, who are all gone and replaced by memories of the things they said, the meals they shared.

Besides, Naugahyde wears like iron.

Leah Garchik grew up in Brooklyn and is a daily columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. She relishes occasional trips home.

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