IF YOU ARE a person from the east side of Cleveland, and of a certain age AND JEWISH OR POLISH OR BOTH, then the piece of furniture will look familiar:
This, for your edification is a Rococo "Davenport". To those of you in Canada, this is what your grandmother would refer to as a Chesterfield. In current terms, something this would be called a sofa, but not a couch. Or maybe you would call it a Settee, or a Love seat.
You could never call it a couch, but a couch implies a level of comfort. But there is nothing comfortable about this "Davenport". From its design - which we call "Early Van Aken" - so named for the boulevard of the same name lined with posh apartments where your "bubbie" lived, this was all about the show - it was proof that you had made it in America, because you could have "nice things" like royalty.
Early Van Aken was a favorite of working class Eastern Europeans, especially the Jews who found Early American furniture too common. And that modern stuff that the better educated Jews and Poles liked? Feh! "There's nothing to it! Its a board with chrome legs and they want a fortune for it!"
It seems if you came over from the Old Country, and had this furniture you no longer had to talk about "the Old Country" except to say things like "Such heartbreak!" or "Such tsoris!" - which was just another way of saying heartbreak. And every chance they got, they reminded the grandchildren that their grandparents upended their so that their beloved bubulahs would never have to know of the tsoris of being a peasant and eat off a board with metal legs.
This was part of the Jewish children's catechism that their grandparents drilled into their heads at each visit with Bubbie. "I gave up everything for you so you could have a better future."
You didn't need reminded of this every time you turned around. The fact was, your grandparents had made it out of the Old Country. This you knew. BUT, they bought this rococo furniture because it meant they had made in America, AND they didn't want you to feel shame in their shabby furnishings, so they bought nice things.
And given what they had been through, they earned these nice things. And since America was the land where you reinvented yourself, for your grandparents - former peasants - could have furniture fit for the Tsar, even though the Tsar was who they were escaping from. That is the irony of America. A man's home is castle, but no kings or queens unless its the person who lives in their home.
But its the plastic slip covers that set it all apart. That's what kept the nice things nice.
You see, after outwitting the Tsar's Cossack's to escape conscription, sailing steerage, arriving in America and starting out on the American dream, and the hard work and the suffering by doing without (and its always about the suffering) our grandparents, Aunts and Uncles obtained "nice things" to be just like everyone else.
No Early American Maple for them. No, they sought out anything that they thought Bach would like, and if it was highlight in gold, all the better. And the Cherubs! Oy the Cherubs! Louis XIV would be mated with Louis XVI in incestuous design schemes that also incorporated Capodimonte lamps and candy dishes, to Real Rose Globes and nick knacks.
And what they bought had to last, because while they adopted the time style of the deMedici's, they didn't have their pocket books, so the stuff had to last because God forbid you should have to buy a second Davenport in your lifetime. That would be crazy!
To keep them nice, they encased them in plastic, so their beloved family members wouldn't ruin the nice things.
The plastic that they used for these slip covers was a hard, clear plastic, custom made because no two pieces of Rococo furniture were the same, that let you look at the brocades, moire silk-like materials and admire them. But the plastic had no "give". So when you sat upon it it crackled and snaped like a certain cereal. And it would pinch your tukis under your clothes, and your leg's underside. Talk about your tsoris!
And if you had a fat cousin, or an aunt or uncle, they were always steered to a dining room chair, because those plastic slip covers would hold air. So if the corpulent aunt wasn't diverted to a dining room chair there was a risk that she would cause a blow out of the plastic cover and it would "pop" with a loud BANG!
Worse, if you were shorts because it was summer, the plastic wouldn't breath. But your legs would sweat and stick to the plastic, leaving them wet, and God forbid a leg mark on the covering from the sweat and skin oils.
In our family, this meant only one thing - furniture throws were deployed over the plastic.
Yes, they covered the plastic to keep it from getting dirty and yellowing from sunlight light and cigarette smoke. At first they covered them with "miracle fabrics" which created a hazard. Because the plastic was smooth like glass, and the fabric was man-made, you had to sit and not move for fear of skidding like a man walking on ice. Or it you twisted to talk to the person next to you, it would case the entire throw to skate off the furniture into a clump.
Now you'd done it. Because everyone had to get up to straighten the throw which was just going to cascade into a pool the next time someone moved. And this ramped-up the stress of a family visit because your grandparents got fussy, tempers flared and the visit got cut short.
"Going so soon?"
This, you were reminded in the car going home, THIS, was why, your parents said, they couldn't have nice things.
"Because you fidget," my father would say.
"But I thought they came from the Old Country so we could have nice things?"
"Who told you that?"
"What does she know," replied my father. This was my cue to shut the fuck up.
So when they came out with foam back furniture throws, my grandmother and aunt rejoiced. The puddling issue was solved. And our visits grew longer, and more stressfull in other ways.
If all of this wasn't nonsensical enough, there was the code that said when non-related company was coming over, there was a rush to remove the plastic from the furniture, because no one wanted the guests to think that you had plastic on the furniture. And getting the plastic removed was a great sign that you were important, like the rabbi was important.
Once, my mother and I were out running errands and my other had to drop something off to a friend, Sylvia Robroy. Sylvia welcomed us into the house graciously, invited us into her living room and apologized. "If had known you were coming over, I would have removed the plastic from the furniture." She seemed genuinely embarrassed by the failure to do so, but my mother protested.
"Sylvia, we're friends. And you never have to worry about it." But now everyone knew that Sylvia kept her furniture in plastic, just like everybody else did.
We went to the kitchen were I was given a glass of milk and the adults had coffee. Everyone sat down on vinyl covered chairs. The adults kibitzed while I sat still and waited for the confab to end. Mrs. Robroy didn't seem to mind the dinette set in plastic, I thought.
I asked my mother once once why we never had plastic on the furniture.
"Well, I suppose we would have if your father would have had a client in the business. But frankly, life is too short for your thighs to stick to the cushions of life. Besides, my old country is Central Ohio. We sat on the floor when I was a kid."
"And you," she reminded me exhaling the smoke from her Kent cigarette, "can always sit on the floor like they did in my Old Country."