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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Friday, November 24, 2023

When you’re in a food coma and four drinks in, conversations tend to take wild tangents. One minute you’re talking about the cost of groceries and the next you’re debating the finer points of drone warfare.

Such was the conversation after dinner last night when we wandered into my grandmother’s house.

When I was a kid, my grandparents lived in a third story apartment. There were three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room. One of the bedrooms was our playroom, another belonged to my mother when she was a child and was where I spent many nights listening to bedtime stories before dozing off with my two grandma’s-house stuffed animals. One bedroom belonged to my grandparents.

The kitchen and dining area saw most of the action. The cooking, the meals, the coffee-and-cake. The table games we played and the conversations we had.

But the room that took center stage in our conversation tonight was the living room.

The living room was for anything but living in. It was the Special Room. The living room had the Nice Furniture. It was the only carpeted room, and there wasn’t a spot on it, nor a thread matted.

Most memorably, the furniture was covered in plastic. The couch, all stiff-backed and regal, was covered in plastic. The lamp shades were covered in plastic. Not a speck of dust dared land on any of it.

We only got to use the living room on Special Occasions and Holidays. I remember walking into that room with reverence and trepidation. It was like a hush descended the minute you crossed the threshold because you knew you were in Special Grown Up Land.

Here’s what I remember: never quite sitting on the couch. You just sort of perched there as delicately as possible. You most certainly didn’t put your feet up.

I remember the crunching crinkling sound of the plastic as it gave beneath you, ever so slightly, but not so much that there was any danger of you putting a crater in the couch.

I remember sticking to it.

When there were too many of us kids to fit into one bedroom, my grandmother loosened up the unspoken rules of the living room and it became our second bedroom. I remember many sleepovers sprawled on that pristine carpet in our sleeping bags, watching TV and goofing around.

The furniture remained covered in plastic and you most certainly did not bring your snacks in with you, but it was definitely more for living in. Many an episode of Saturday morning Smurfs were watched in that room.

Later, when my grandparents moved “to the country” with us, they had their house built from the ground up.

Every last bit of it was beige. The carpets. The couch. The walls and counters and bathroom tiles. In other words, the kind of color that does not make having six grandchildren a simple proposition.

The plastic stayed behind, so to compensate my grandmother covered everything in fabric. The couch and chairs were covered in bright blue throw covers. And the carpets – every square inch of them, bless her soul – were covered in bright pink cloth.

My grandparents had a huge bolt of this pink fabric-like paper that had once been used to make artificial flowers but most often made an appearance as wrapping paper, packing paper, and of course carpet runner.

She unspooled this fabric up the staircase. Through the living room. Into the kitchen. It wasn’t secured to anything, it just floated there, this crazy sea of pink protecting the beige carpets that you’d only ever see on Thanksgiving and Christmas.

In the more open floor plan of the house, you couldn’t keep people out of the living room so you had to mummify the living room against the people. At least with the throw cover you could sit on the couch without sticking to it.

As a kid it was merely an accepted fact that Nice Furniture was covered in plastic. That some rooms were for you to hang out in and some weren’t.

As a teenager I wondered why my grandmother opted to live in this semi-chaos of bright blue couch covers and hot pink floor paper on a daily basis, instead of enjoying the house she’d worked so hard to earn and build just the way she wanted it.

As an adult I understood that it was because she had worked so hard for it that protecting it was so important.

Much like the China that only came out on Special Occasions and the earrings she only wore on Special Occasions and the perfume only she used on Special Occasions, and the perpetual array of “stuff” that she saved for Special Occasions, much of which was wrapped in plastic or pink paper when not in use, she never took her possessions for granted.

I have inherited a few of these Special Things and some of them are wrapped in pink paper, but mostly I use them. I do not take them for granted.

Perhaps I will break some of them. Perhaps they will roll off the dish mat and onto the floor along with my seven other glasses from Target, the three dishes, two bowls, and my favorite tea mug. And then I will wail and gnash my teeth a bit. But in the meantime I will use them and love them precisely because they are so Special.

I don’t have enough room to keep it all in my apartment so some of it remains ensconced in the attic in Brigantine. But some of my favorites are here. The champagne flutes. The cordial glasses. The red glasses with the silver stems.

They come out on Thanksgiving. And on Christmas. And on Wednesday. I don’t need to save anything for a Special Occasion because any time one of these treasures comes out, the occasion is automatically made Special. Thanksgiving is over, but it’s Friday, which is the perfect day to make myself a Special cocktail in my Special Occasion glasses.

Photo: some Special glasses from my grandmother that we used during a Thanksgiving feast with Kevin at his condo in Massachusetts. Kitty approved.