The Last Sofa

The Last Sofa

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: A Tribute to Moms

The Last Sofa

It had to be white, or at the very least, off-white.

The sofa that my mother knew would be her last on this earth could not be dark or murky or even neutral. It would be a bold statement that at last, at very long last, she would own a wildly impractical sofa.

And why not?

Why should a woman in her nineties shop for a sofa that is durable or sensible? Why shouldn’t she go for broke and find a sofa that’s the polar opposite of every other sofa she’s owned in her long and practical life?

So there we stood on a recent afternoon, mother and daughter, surveying a slick leather sofa in chocolate brown, a four-seater in maroon velvet, several handsome tweeds in charcoal grays and beiges, and one free-form sofa in fiery red. To all of them, Mom said a firm, almost angry “No!”

Her determination was enough to startle several young salespeople who figured they had an easy mark here: go for the sensible tweeds, the won’t-show-a-thing darks with this elderly little lady and be done with it.

Hardly.

If I was fading fast in the third store, Mom was not. The thrill of the chase had inspired her, energized her, and given her a free pass away from her apartment in an anonymous high-rise that, on some long days, must have felt like a prison.

On this day, Mom was the captain, and I was merely her lieutenant.

This was not, mind you, an extravagant woman—anything but. Born to Eastern European immigrant parents who owned a fruit store and put in impossible hours selling Bartlett pears and four kinds of apples, Mom knew few indulgences. And while her lot in life improved when she married my late father, it was still not improved enough to allow for white sofas.

The Depression mentality that began their marriage in the early 1930s stretched into decades. Spending money never came easily, and often never came at all. Making do was the modus vivendi, especially for my mother.

But even a woman who watched her pennies was finally ready to replace the sofa that had ushered in a second marriage. Mom had stuck with it long after Irv’s death nearly twenty years ago. The quilting had flattened, and lately, the stuffing had oozed out of the pillows lining the couch’s back.

“I’m ready for a new sofa,” my mother had announced unceremoniously one day, and I felt like cheering. Seemingly out of the blue, there was this sudden mission to find my mother’s last sofa. And maybe her most important purchase ever.

In the fourth store, my mother, cane in hand, prowled the sales floor. Sofa shopping had become a blood sport. And then she spotted it. Sitting quite alone was the most sensuous, lush white silk sofa with just the faintest off-white stripe. It might well have worn a sign that read “Keep Off!” It was that wildly impractical.

Mom circled the sofa, stood behind it, stood in front of it, and then lowered herself into its cushions. No queen was ever more regal than my five-foot, ninety-five-pound mother on her silk throne. I watched, dumbfounded, as my mother, besotted with love for this object of her desire, seemed to shed years and woes and intimations of mortality as she settled into that sofa’s plump cushions.

And what was most striking was this woman, who had demanded to know the price of everything with something approaching ferocity, didn’t even bother to look at the price tag dangling from this sofa. It seemed a nonissue.

Despite the thousands of hours we two had shopped together as mother and daughter—despite the daily phone calls and endless conversations about every subject imaginable—I understood, in that store, that there was a still a secret place in my mother’s soul. And that secret place needed and wanted this last tango with something sumptuous and opulent, something she’d never had as a bride or a young mother or an empty nester or a lonely old woman.

I could never shovel into mere words the look on Mom’s face when she learned that this sofa—this ultimate sofa—was also a floor sample, and therefore a markdown.

My mother lived to enjoy that sofa only six months. But even as her health failed, that white silk sofa with deep cushions and a slightly curved back gave her something to relish every day.

“How I love that sofa!” Mom said to me on one of her last days on this earth.

And we both understood that at last—at long last—my dear mother had been knowingly, deliberately, self-indulgent.

It was the last time I saw her smile.

Sally Friedman

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