My mother had a penchant for plastic slipcovers and she put them on everything in the living room, including the lampshades. Plastic slipccovers made their debut in the mid 50’s and managed to haunt my family well into the next two decades. The concept of furniture being comfortable was obviously lost on mom. For her, preservation was the key and screw the family. In addition to being uncomfortable, the plastic made strange sounds when you sat on it and was sticky in the summer time. Once June rolled around and we broke out our shorts and lost our tights, getting up off the couch felt like ripping off a Band-Aid. During the summer months, we needed an on-call medic just to treat the burn marks and wounds generated from the plastic. We moved on from the plastic slipcovers some time in the mid 70’s when they began to lose their “avant garde” appeal, but the backs of our legs never forgot.
Another dysfunctional piece of furniture in our house was the piano…a baby grand piano. It’s not like we had a music room, a great room, a family room, or even a mud room. We lived in an apartment; there was one central room, the living room. It wouldn’t have been so bad if someone in the family actually played piano, but none of us did. When I asked my father years later why we had a baby grand piano, yet none of us ever took piano lessons, his response was, “no one ever asked to.” In lieu of any musical talent in the family, we created our own use for the piano; mainly as a repository for the mail, loose change, and an occasional apple core. Years later, mom sold that piano “for a song” and it took us over six months to figure out a new place to dump all our stuff.
Aside from the furniture issues, my mom just had a lot of things in general that were never allowed to be used for their intended purpose. These tchotchkes, (Yiddish word for crap) included a Wedgewood ashtray that never had a cigarette butt in it and an accompanying Wedgewood cigarette lighter that never had lighter fluid in it. She had candlesticks without candles, a soup tourinne that never held an ounce of soup, vases that never held flowers, and a candy dish that never had any candy it it. All of these “treasures” were stored in a breakfront in the living room and treated as if they were of museum quality; occasionally the things in the breakfront were dusted, but that was the extent of their contact with the real world.
In addition, she had a bowl with fake fruit in it (because as you already know, real fruit was rationed in my house). The bowl included plastic grapes. One day on a dare, Cha-Cha picked one of the fake grapes to see if my mom would notice when she came home. We rearranged the fake fruit bowl to cover up the deed, but when mom walked in, she took one look at that bowl (which was halfway across the room) and said, “Who picked a grape?” Lesson learned; don’t underestimate the power of mom and her tchotchkes.
In addition to the dysfunctional household items, mom had a slew of overly functional crap that she purchased for a single specific task, not realizing that we probably had some other item lying around the house that would be equally effective. She had a rubber ring that looked like a frisbee with the center cut out that we wore around our heads when we washed our hair to avoid getting soap in our eyes (perhaps she should have told us to just close our eyes), a plastic thing that looked like a coaster that made sure no water escaped from the sink when you washed things in it (couldn’t we just close the drain?), a contraption for removing the tops of strawberries (wouldn’t a knife have worked as well?), an egg slicer (see previous comment), a special knife that was only to be used for cutting a half a grapefruit into sections (what?), and a special jar opener thingy (wasn’t her hand good enough?) Our kitchen drawers were so filled with these useless gadgets that you’d often be hard-pressed to find a fork, but you could always find the watermelon pit-picker-outer.
Years later, when mom decided to downsize a bit and sell some of her tchotchkes, I had visions of putting all this stuff on e-Bay and creating listings like “in mint condition” or ” “30-year old serving plate; never been used.” I thought mom might end up with a few Benjamins from someone who saw this as vintage; a collector’s item. Nope. It was crap then and it’s crap now. The only tchotchke that fetched any decent money was mom’s Rainy Day Hummel. I never quite figured out the appeal of those things. They didn’t even have a functional purpose that we could choose to ignore. They truly were “just for show.” And what’s the point of that?