The Block Island Times

Good-bye Year, Good-bye Sofa

Dec 28, 2013

This year has been one of extraordinary sadness in our little town. Everyone knows that and needs no recounting so I search for topics uplifting which loosely translates to ones that make me happy.

There is a golden dog lying in the sun on the kitchen floor, and I am startled by her presence. She is quite beautiful but looks to have grown since yesterday – which I find myself saying every day – and is sooo long when she stretches, giving me an over-the-shoulder look of disdain as her nap is interrupted. I have had other puppies but do not remember this awareness of the rapid loss of their sweet, soft puppyhood.

We have come to the end of another year, and I am reminded my first piece, the one from which this column evolved, was printed in the last issue of 1991. I remain grateful, as I have been since the beginning, for the support and encouragement received from readers, for the little bits of information offered, the memories shared, the variations on “oh, I remember that!” that often lead to other recollections. And for the kindnesses extended as my tiny universe of me and one or another dog has shifted. The world has changed since 1991, often a bittersweet reality. The first days I took copy, typewritten, literally cut and pasted, to a basement office on Old Mill Road, and later delivered a floppy disk, hoping it was properly formatted. Eventually, miracle of miracles, I sent my words out over the phone line.

It has been a joy to share stories of my new dog, my Autumn September Ball, and I am thankful to everyone who has helped me move from initial trepidation to love even in the face of holes in the yards and dirty paws everywhere. It is, after all, the country; there has never been a Ladies’ Parlor Sofa in this house.

That piece of furniture, the sofa in the parlor at the Harbor Church, popped up on Bulletin Board, looking for a new home. Before seeing that I had thought I felt an earth tremor, a fanciful notion confirmed when I read the notice.

That sofa is a part of my earliest memories beyond my own house, a great shapeless oddity, covered with dark red velvet that surely had been the fashion decades earlier. It had huge cushions that could have been featherbeds; if our parents were concerned when we sat upon them it was only that we might be lost in the billowy softness.

Then the church ladies undertook the then gargantuan task of creating a Block Island Cookbook, the old one with a recipe for turtle soup beginning with the take nothing for granted line “catch turtle.” It is, that book, a snapshot in time, as are the others that followed, produced by various local organizations.

There was an article in the Providence Journal, with a quirky headline about the cookbook carpeting the church. It wasn’t just carpet that was purchased, that sofa and its companion pieces were shipped off, reupholstered, and returned changed beings.

The sofa, especially, gained real form and I have never quite believed it was one and the same. It and the chairs were covered with either green or yellow cut velvet, which must have been the rage at the time, and we were all instructed to be very careful. The old room had been dressed up and become a Company Parlor. It would not be the wrath of God that would descend upon us if we as much as sat the wrong way, rather we would suffer the much more fearsome church ladies. It wasn’t our mothers we feared, it was that group of older ladies, the ones, truth be told, our mothers feared.

It must have been sometime in the early 1960s, the first cookbook was printed in 1962 and included recipes from the tercentenary year, even a Christmas pudding from the Chairman of the Council of Shoreham-by-the-Sea, Sussex, England. It must have been a good 25 years later, when the sofa and its companions were becoming tired and worn long past anyone caring who sat upon them and when, that the process repeated itself.

The new fabric was different, lovely and light, and the utmost care was to be exercised. When the sofa — somehow everything else is always incidental — was nearly newly redone it was moved, as it has been every year since, into the sanctuary to free the space for tables and to give those waiting a place to sit for Roll Call Dinner. There filtered back to the kitchen a hushed report of someone lying on it, feet and all, a dispatch immediately squelched lest there be repercussions far out of proportion to the deed. Running out of turkey and stuffing and pie would have been a minor crisis in comparison.

It was longer ago than I think; I try to remember the current ages of those involved in the averted catastrophe and it comes as a surprise how many years have passed. One day not so long ago I looked at the sofa and suddenly saw the once lovely colors were gone, in a room with no southern sun, as if the dyes had evaporated into the air. How was that possible? And the springs sagged — again, how was that possible, whoever sat on the darn thing, although in truth given the use of the building probably legions, everyone but that handful of us still expecting those ladies to peer in the room and admonish us.

It is crazily low to the ground, even before anyone sits on it, and I wonder, yet again, how is that possible, I have certainly not gotten any taller over the past decades. Still, I say if no one immediately called wanting it, the sofa should go to the sunroom. And wait for the proclamation there was too much sun, the fabric already drained of color would... fade and coffee pots bells would go off in my head.

Two new love seats have replaced the old monster, with the usual machinations of getting new furniture though the doors of an old building. They are lovely and comfortable, hopefully a sign of a happier year ahead.

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