This Old Sofa

THE only piece of brand-new furniture I've ever purchased is a soft overstuffed blue chair that rocks back and forth. For about a week after its arrival, my son, Dylan, and daughter, Hallie, could fit into it with me. Then Dylan had one of those growth spurts so common to children. It seemed as though he'd grown so much in 24 hours that he filled more space in the chair than I did.

My children, unused to how new fabric smelled and felt, would position themselves in the chair as though they were connected to the frame by bonding glue.

If one person left the chair for a drink or to get a book, another family member would flit into it like a bird appropriating a stranger's nest.

If I had the chair and the phone rang, suddenly the living room was populated by my children and their friends waiting to sink into the soft cushion as soon as I got up.

At this time, our sofa was a scratchy plaid-covered piece of furniture that had been in my parents' basement since the early 1950s when they'd purchased it. In the summertime, no one would sit on it because it made bare legs and feet itch. The wooden arms loosened beyond repair and the fabric began to split.

One spring Saturday, we traded it plus $25 for a large overstuffed brown sofa at our school's rummage sale. The same two friends who'd helped us move old tables, chairs, and desks in and out of our house hoisted the heavy wood-framed sofa into our living room.

I always judge the comfort of a piece of furniture by its rate of occupancy. No one liked the old brown sofa except me, which left one less person competing for the blue chair.

I tried to convince my children of its worth. ``The arms,'' I showed them, ``are perfect for tea, papers, or magazines.''

My son remained unconvinced. His opinion solidified on the morning he plopped down hard on the sofa to put on his socks and one of the metal stays cracked, causing him to sink an inch or two farther than he had anticipated.

Ever loyal to the sofa, I told him that it was so big that we could just not use that end. The next week, a spring popped through on the cushion directly above the broken stay. We turned the cushion over and piled pillows there as a reminder that this area of the sofa was off-limits.

The final straw for my children was when the fabric on the arm burst. Dense white stuffing looking a bit like the scratchy fabric of our last sofa started to spew from the arm in rolling bunches.

Tucked up in the blue chair one morning, Hallie stared at the sofa arm and began an earnest campaign for a new davenport.

From that morning on, if I secured unanticipated work, she'd ask, ``Is this when we get a new sofa?'' On my birthday or any holiday she'd discreetly encourage me to put ``new sofa'' on my list of wishes.

Part of the problem was that I didn't want a new sofa. I'd come to enjoy the brown sofa almost as much as an old friendship, where the small quirks in personalities are well known and reciprocal adjustments are made.

I'd learned that there is a great deal of freedom in not putting too much value on things. I wasn't particularly upset if children climbed all over the sofa with less-than-clean hands or even if a little bit of juice was spilled at a particularly exciting part of a story.

Would I become a nag if we had a ``good'' sofa? I talked this over with my daughter and she reminded me of the blue chair, of how careful we all were because it took so long to get it.

We've been going over this ``sofa thing'' for a couple of years now. We tentatively plan to go sofa shopping next fall. We have to break into this gradually.

Time will dictate whether we buy something brand-new or new to us. We now have a sofa fund. A few extra quarters here and there are dropped into the glass jar. I've been stubbornly residing of late on the old brown sofa. I've left the blue chair to my children.

The other night I fell asleep on the sofa. I used to do this in the blue chair because the only time it was free was after bedtime. I would sink into the blue chair with a good book and be asleep within moments.

But after this nap on the sofa, I could barely move. The sofa sags in so many places, and my body just couldn't cope with all the undulations. It was this nap that convinced me that my children were right.

We do need a new sofa. I relaxed - as much as I could with my stiff body - into the realization that maybe when we buy it, I'll get to sit in the blue chair once again.

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