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  • Genine Babakian

Silver Lining Unites Rocker and Wingback

Shortly after my grandparents immigrated to the U.S. in the 1920s, they found an apartment in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan. To get the lease, however, they had to buy the contents of the apartment. Thus they became the proud owners of some very shabby furniture, as well as a beautifully carved wingback chair with matching rocker. They moved in with their two young sons, and had two more children – the youngest one being my mother.

The rocking chair was my grandmother’s particular favorite. Her place of comfort where she nursed and rocked her children. But the children grew and these chairs, too, started to get shabby. During the Depression years there was not a lot of extra money for furniture repair, but my grandfather – a doctor – had a patient who said he would give him a good deal.

One afternoon, when my grandmother was away, my grandfather invited his upholsterer patient over to look at the chairs. He told my grandfather that the rocker was finished. “Let me take it away for you, and I’ll cover the wingback chair for free.” My grandfather happily agreed, and by the time my grandmother arrived back home, her favorite chair was gone.

She was devastated. But her husband had a temper and she dared not cross him. Decades later, when my father first entered the picture, he would hear her talk about that chair, and the loss she felt when it was gone.

That would have been the end of the story, had my parents’ living room not been flooded some sixty years later.

One morning in the spring of 1993, my mother woke up to find water pouring into her living room – a malfunction of the washing machine above it. While much of the furniture was soaked in the flood, the wingback chair – which my mother had inherited after my grandmother’s passing – was spared. She moved it into a dry room and called an upholsterer to repair the damaged pieces.

A few weeks later, the upholsterer came back to deliver the freshly covered couches. Walking back and forth to his truck, the wingback chair caught his eye, again and again. Finally, he said, “It’s the strangest thing, but I’ve got the matching rocker to that chair back in my shop. I picked it up at a dump.”

When my parents told me this story, I imagined them leaping into the car and speeding to the Bronx to identify the long lost chair. In reality, it may have been the next day. But find it they did – albeit worse for the wear. For a tidy sum, the man agreed to refinish the chair and deliver it. After sixty years, the chairs were reunited. And they remain so today, in my own home.

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