Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Slipcovers & Madeleines

Do you remember plastic slipcovers? Did you know they still exist? I was checking out a new "must-see" listing for a house in Somerville and, lo and behold:

Custom-made, too.

This photo is a Proustian madeleine for me. I hadn't thought about plastic slipcovers for years. When I was growing up, our neighbors had them on their "French Provincial" living room set. They didn't take them off for company, so we sat on them. And stuck to them. No wonder I was a socially awkward child; visiting people was frequently hell.

I believe we should live in all the rooms of our houses and enjoy our "best" things, even if that means exposing them to some wear and tear. But I also understand the Depression-era mind-set of trying to protect an expensive investment— most of my family struggled through those years. When you've experienced such hardship, the wolf never seems far from the door no matter how times change. My relatives used cotton slipcovers to protect their cut-velvet upholstery, while my more modern parents chose a tough, scratchy upholstery called "Herculon" that remains indestructible 40 years later. (Its brown-and-yellow floral pattern lost its appeal for most of us long ago).

Another madeleine (who can stop at one?): In the 1970s, the Sure-Fit Slipcover Company employed lots of people in our town. (It since moved its factory to China.) As a teenager, I worked there one summer on the inventory crew, counting stock in the huge, dusty warehouse, which was piled in open-front bins up to the ceiling. There were at least 20 of us punching the time-clock for this adventure. Working in pairs, one of us would prop an an ancient wooden ladder against the bins, climb up, root around, and call down stock numbers and quantities to our partner, who had spreadsheets and a pencil. 

The bottom edges of the ladders' rails were rounded and slippery with age, so they often slid out from underneath us and we'd crash onto the floor. The more chivalrous partners on the ground tried to hold the ladder steady, but it was hard to manage spreadsheets and do that. So our days were punctuated with frequent screams and minor injuries, until most of us abandoned the ladders and started climbing the scaffolding that held the bins, like monkeys. I'll bet we all worked harder in high school after that summer, in hopes of getting into college. I certainly did.

I guess they weren't very sweet madeleines, but I think I will raise a (sparkling cider) toast to the Sure-Fit Slipcover Company for helping me get into Swarthmore. And the next toast will be to the neighbors with the plastic slipcovers, for teaching me what not to do from a very young age.

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