69: The Skid Row Float

69: The Skid Row Float

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings

The Skid Row Float

Yet they are thy people and thine inheritance,
which thou broughtest out by thy mighty power
and by thy stretched out arm.


When I was a kid, accepting cast-offs from well-intentioned friends and relatives was a recurring event for my family of seven. Used sofas came and went with regular frequency. Not so surprisingly, the acquisition of a new couch usually coincided with the passing of one of my lovely old great-aunts. In fact, the really old aunts avoided us completely if word got around that our sofa was truly on its last legs. I think these grand old ladies had a secret pact to remain ignorant of our current couch crisis, and that was the key to their longevity. As a child I believed whole-heartedly in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and that receiving the sofa of a deceased relative was actually part of the funeral rite.

I remember vividly back in the summer of 1964, the good Lord called Aunt Alice home at the ripe age of eighty-seven, and somehow our dear old camelback, larger-than-life sofa knew it. Secure in the knowledge that a replacement sofa waited in the wings for us, the “Cranberry Queen of Velveteen” as we fondly referred to it, slipped from the two brick makeshift legs that supported her rear, breathed her last soft sigh and thumped to the floor right on schedule.

A few days later, as we all gathered to pay our last respects to Aunt Alice, a somber cloud of silence hung heavily over the congregation. Until my annoyingly squeaky yet perfectly audible voice punched a big fat hole in it. “Mom,” I said. “Is Daddy going right to Aunt Alice’s house now to pick up the couch or do we have to wait until the cemetery part is over?”

In one fell swoop my mother stretched one arm clear across my four older siblings, clamped my lips shut with one hand, airlifted me back past the four siblings with the other, and plunked me down at her side. Time elapsed: three-tenths of a nanosecond. While in flight I caught my dad clamping his own mouth shut and I wondered what that was about. After all he hadn’t uttered a word. I knew something was up though because a series of muffled giggles rippled through the crowd at the precise moment I became airborne.

Personally, I saw no humor in the situation at all, let alone any reason for my mother to physically button my lips and pluck me from my seat. Obviously not having anywhere to sit when it was time to watch The Flintstones panicked no one but me.

After the funeral service was over (including the cemetery part) Dad headed out to collect Aunt Alice’s sofa and Mom’s task was to dispose of the wreck in our living room. Because of its deplorable condition, her goal was to haul it to the Goodwill donation station at the end of our block. Frankly, all the good will on Earth couldn’t have resurrected this hunk of junk, but the anonymous donor option trumped leaving it for the trash pickup. If she was going to do that, she might as well hang a neon sign on it with a blinking arrow pointing to our front door.

The problem: four daughters and one son all under the age of sixteen make a mighty sorry-looking moving and hauling team. Especially when pursuing an incognito operation.

The solution: With limited options and dripping with anxiety, Mom summoned the courage to recruit my brother Bobby and three of his teenage friends. A decision so immediately followed by regret a NASCAR stopwatch couldn’t have clocked the time in between.

To Bobby and his band of merry men, carrying an oversized, threadbare, broken down, ugly (from its moment of birth) sofa the length of one city block spelled, P-A-R-T-Y. Wise to the antics of teenage boys, Mom suggested they wait until dark. They laughed. She insisted. They picked Mom up and moved her out of the way.

I can still picture those boys lumbering down the alley in single file with that clumsy old couch carcass raised high over their heads, chanting some quirky made-up rhyming verse throughout the whole ordeal. When they finally reached the end of the block, Bobby looked back at Mom and shouted, “Hey, look, Mom. It’s a parade and we own the Skid Row Float!” Even the long arm of Marie Tait, mother extraordinaire, couldn’t reach clear down to the end of the block to lock his lips shut.

The echo of his remark floated down the alley, rustling the curtains of every open kitchen window it passed. By the time his words reached Mom’s ears, she couldn’t resist laughing out loud as all hope of our anonymity disappeared.

An antique mahogany-trimmed Georgian style sofa stands in all its regal splendor in my living room today. Mom passed it down to me, but it belonged first to my grandmother who was the last surviving sister in the circle of delightful ladies known to me as my great-aunts. This sofa is not a modern assembly line version. It is a grand tribute to an age when crafting a sofa took several months of a man’s life.

“They just don’t make them like that anymore.” That’s what Mom said when she inherited it, threadbare and faded. She decided to have it reupholstered, though by then she could have easily afforded a new sofa.

It’s a beauty all right and I am comforted by the vintage grace it lends to my living room. But truthfully I own something even better. Mine is the treasure of the “Skid Row Float” and the wealth of heartwarming family memories it rekindles in me. Often material possessions were in short supply at our house. As for memories, we made those by the dozen.

~Annmarie B. Tait

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