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Childhood Couches and Plastic Covers

April 4, 2017
Childhood Couches and Plastic Covers

My formative years lasted throughout the ’90s…a time period of trolls and Lisa Frank, dial up and scrunchies, slap bracelets and Gameboys, Dunkaroos and “Where’s Waldo?” I recall these reminders fondly, just as much as I have mentally souvenir’d my great-grandmother’s plastic-covered couch. It was something like a coral, pinkish color and was not stuffed enough for plush comfort. It sat in her formal living room, regal in its forbiddance, bold in its audaciousness to three little girls to dare touch it, let alone sit on it without permission, as we spent summers and after school in her care.

We were already constantly in trouble for our varying obsessions with her many touch lamps.

The vinyl of the couch emitted a distinguishable crunch when pressure was applied. I can remember being admitted to have a seat twice during a special occasion and when certain guests arrived, experiences that taught me one solid lesson: a plastic-sealed sofa was weird, even when in style long before the ’90s, but only because the plastic stuck horribly to the backs of thighs in my great-grandparents’ too-warm house. “For a generation that was prone to drape its rooms in plastic, this practice was [however] as normal as drinking coffee in the morning,” says writer David DiSalvo (“The Psychology of Plastic Couch Covers,” 2009).

I can hear my mom’s voice in my ears today when she announced to everyone at the house around 1995 or so that the sofa was going to be freed from its cosmetic prison. She had had enough, apparently, since the couch had been plastered, then inexplicably re-plastered during her childhood and young adulthood, respectively.

Great-Grandma–“Short Grandma,” we still affectionately call her due to her 4’10” stature–wasn’t too pleased about this ceremonious decision made for her.

Even “exposed,” we treated the sofa as plastic-covered out of habit and viewed the living room with the same restrictions as a construction zone. To this day, I do not believe I have sat on that sofa ten times. Maybe because the couch is a 50-year-old family relic at this point.

Yes, she still has the sofa in the same house, in the same starchy living room.

Keeping a sofa encased in a transparent plastic veiling was a widely seen trend used to preserve and protect. As families struggled through hard(er) economic times, furniture was one particular luxurious purchase that was not the easiest to come by for most. Therefore, it became imperative to safeguard the seating from dirt, dust, wear, and rubbing, particularly from that of the brand known as children. It makes sense to recommend a drapery of sorts, a couch cloak that allows furniture to be aesthetically pleasing, but remain untouched, ironically, and as clean as possible. Plastic wrap was as far as society had reached at that time that could span varied family income levels.

To me, folks back then were on to something.

Strange, but…something.

The literal sense of shielding furniture from the busyness of everyday life is ongoing today. Home décor trends now offer the possibilities of stretchy slipcovers  and quilted pet covers and “couch coats,” amongst other numberless options. Widespread designers recognize parenting as a contact sport and, thus, an array of upholstery remedies have emerged that allows for little sneakered feet and sticky, grubby hands and our pets’ downy hair while conserving our investments as much as possible.

In much the same way a coating works on furniture, many parents work to preserve the childhoods their children lead. By permitting a certain logical degree of play and relaxation surrounding, say, the sectional or the loveseat in the living room, most parents take into account that their little ones are dirt-prone and repel debris like Pig Pen from the “Peanuts” gang. Bench-marking memories means understanding and authorizing the freedoms of family game nights and jumping celebrations and slumber parties and everyday dinner nights on the couch. With the knowledge that children will not stay young forever, and furniture will eventually expire in fashion, many parents hang up the appearance of a perfect-looking home now for healthy, happy children.

This excludes the notion that children who do not jump on their parents’ couches are unhappy. Instead, allowing frolicking without the stress of furniture replacement enforces the preservation and protection of childhood–wrapping our children’s adventures in a see-through, metaphorically plastic overlay.

In her blog article, “Plastic Furniture Covers And Memories Of Youth,” mommy Sam asks, “Does the decline in plastic furniture covers signify the fact that parents have finally accepted that kids get dirty and, by extension, dirty up most things they touch? Have we finally ‘loosened up’ somewhat, at least enough to let our kids frolic on the couch with nary a thought to the mess that they may leave in their wake? Are we a generally more permissive group of parents than our predecessors, or is this just the case in some family circles? In other words, perhaps the plastic on furniture directive has not gone by the wayside, but rather, just migrated to a smaller and more elite crowd. Who knows?”

Parents electronically capture milestones and trap them forever on flash drives and DVDs. We snap photos and digitally store them in online albums. We save tiny baby shoes and tiny hospital caps. We hold onto artwork and school certificates and school photos. Parents save items that can possibly freeze our children in time, enough so that we temporarily suspend the pain of their inevitably growing up and out.

Back in the day, parents took pictures and salvaged white, hard-bottomed walking shoes and laughed at afro photos, too. They also treasured that, once their home was emptied, they would want a really nice couch to sit on, a couch that, despite passing time, had maintained a semblance of authenticity and held all of the memories encompassing the piece.

A couch that had been archived in plastic, but dunked with the legacy of childhood.

There’s something gauzy and warm about that.

Works Cited

DiSalvo, David. “The Psychology of Plastic Couch Covers.” Neuronarrative, 19 Jan. 2009, https://neuronarrative.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/the-psychology-of-plastic-couch-covers/. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.

Sam. “Plastic Furniture Covers and Memories of Youth.” Multiple Mayhem Mamma, 31 Jul. 2012, http://www.multiplemayhemmamma.com/2012/07/plastic-furniture-covers-and-memories-of-youth.html. Accessed 3 Apr. 2017.

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