Harold’s love seat—as we still referred to it, years after his death—was upholstered in gold brocade fabric. I was never able to touch the gilded thread with my searching little-girl fingers, because the sofa had been covered years earlier in a custom-fitted suit of protective plastic. No one in our family ever had much. We needed things to last.
My parents inherited the love seat in the mid-seventies, along with a coffee table, Harold’s leather-topped writing desk, a rust-hued rug, and a dusty set of dining chairs from my grandparents’ attic. My mother and father pieced together their lives from the discards of others.
The love seat arrived on a summer weekend afternoon, amidst a clatter of exertion from my father and his college buddies just outside the front door of our Queens apartment. They barked orders to each other, while working to hoist and jimmy the secondhand piece into our hallway, and the odor of cigarette smoke preceded their boisterous entry. Wait-a-minute-wait-a-minute-lemme-geta-hold-of-it-Billy-put-your-shoulder-into-it-alright-I-got-it-now-up-we-go.
The item had once belonged to my grandmother’s brother Harold, who had purchased the small sofa with his first wife, Marie. When she died without warning in the late 1950s, from some hushed, alcohol-related ailment, Harold and the love seat took up residence in my grandparents’ Brooklyn living room. For several months, my grandmother and twelve year-old father removed Harold’s suit pants and shoes each night, while he lay sprawled on its cushions in a grieving Irish stupor. After a time, Harold sobered up, moved out and remarried, leaving the sofa as a semblance of gratitude.
Not long after the love seat was placed in our sunroom, my grandfather died from a sudden and massive heart attack, and Easter appeared on the calendar just a few weeks after his funeral. My parents invited my grandmother to stay with us, to offer comfort during her first widowed holiday. She slept on Uncle Harold’s love seat, and looked on in her house coat and slippers as I searched for the plastic eggs hidden in our apartment. Untethered from grief by the innocence of childhood, I happily offered a diorama sugar egg to my grandmother, and asked her to peer at the small confection hidden inside. A tumble of makeshift bedding sat beside her on the sofa. At the sight of my outstretched hand, the tight, flat line of her mouth lifted at the corners.
Eventually, we left Queens for the Connecticut suburbs, and the love seat was junked at the curb—still humming with the energy of young men, and the weariness of survivors.
Kathleen McKitty Harris is a fifth-generation native New Yorker whose work has appeared in Sonora Review, Creative Nonfiction, Full Grown People, McSweeney’s, and The Rumpus, among others. Her essay, “A Timeline of Human Female Development,” appears in the anthology My Body, My Words (Big Table Publishing 2018). She has also performed as a storyteller at The Moth in New York City, and at the “Listen To Your Mother” live-reading series in northern New Jersey, where she lives with her husband, two children, and irredeemable dog.