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The Rocker Recliner

In my bedroom I have an upholstered chair known as a “rocker recliner.”  My dad was in the furniture business as a manufacturer and this blue, velvety upholstered chair came from his factory, Mechanics Furniture Manufacturers, in Worcester, Massachusetts back in the 1970s. The rocker recliner was a popular item back in the day. It allowed the person using it to rock or to recline and it swiveled side-to-side.

It was originally owned by my aunt Ronnie Kramer who lived in North Hollywood, California. Ronnie was the pride and joy of our family because she worked in “the industry” as personal assistant to Danny Thomas and later, his daughter Marlo Thomas (of “That Girl” fame), before starting her own recruiting agency for film production workers.

Ronnie was my dad’s younger sister and with just a 20 year difference between us, we related as if she was my older sister. I moved to Los Angeles at her invitation in 1988 after she was diagnosed with lung cancer. Together, we braved some of the hardships she underwent during the short time we had together. When she died in November 1989 it was up to me to dispose of many of her personal possessions.

I kept the rocker recliner as a memory of her and also of my father’s furniture business. As a child, I spent many weekends exploring the four floors of “the factory” at 306 Shrewsbury Street in Worcester, MA, playing hide and seek with my brother and sister. When I was a little older, I was allowed to work there sweeping the floors around the double rows of sewing machines where the Italian ladies worked.

I loved being there and over time I got to know all of the longtime employees pretty well. There was Frankie Pelligrino, the shop foreman and his wife Vickie, the head seamstress. There was Angelo Pelligrino – Frank’s brother, who was an upholsterer and who I considered my friend. Then there was Emil, the German fabric cutter who was stern but always nice to me. I also remember Jimmy Mitti, the shop’s truck driver (although my Uncle Arnie would sometimes fill in when a delivery needed to be made) and Joe, the African American driver who worked there at one time.

It was at the factory where I developed an appreciation for people of all cultures and in doing so, I always felt like we were all equal in stature. I may have been the boss’s daughter but I felt just as much at home with the people who worked there.

Most every night now, I sit in that rocker recliner because it brings me comfort to think back to those days. That chair is all I have to remind me of the factory. It closed in the early 1990s after the furniture manufacturing industry moved, first, to the southern United States, and then, to China. I know my dad was always very disappointed that he wasn’t able to leave us more of an inheritance from the more than 50 years of the factory’s existence.

The building, which my family owned, was sold to a records storage facility which now anonymously occupies that location with its chain link fence and padlocked front door. It’s no longer the friendly place I used to visit as a child with its well – worn wooden stairs leading up to the office or down to the furniture showroom.

The last time I stopped by the old factory building, the security guy motioned me to leave and wouldn’t allow me to take a quick look inside.

I won’t ever go back there again, but I will hold onto that rocker recliner until it falls apart. Every night before I go to sleep, I sit in that chair and I enjoy the legacy of this 50 year old upholstered chair, now well – worn, and I get to hold onto a piece of my past.