Katacha Díaz grew up in Lima, Peru. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Route 7 Review (Spring 2016), Coastlines: A Literary Magazine (Fall 2015), Gravel: A Literary Journal (August 2015), Twisted Vine Literary Arts Journal (Spring 2015), Foliate Oak Literary Magazine (April 2015 and October 2014), and elsewhere. She lives in Astoria, Oregon, where she is at work on a short-story collection and memoir.
Retro Metal Chic
By Katacha Díaz
I write this sitting in my balcony oasis that offers spectacular views of the Columbia River. It’s a warm summer evening, and I’m soaking in the ever-changing river scene with cargo and cruise ships registered around the world passing under the bright green iconic bridge.
If I close my eyes, I transport myself back in time to a rainy April morning in 1960 when my family and I were passengers aboard a Peruvian navy cargo ship anchored at the Port of Astoria. The captain was awaiting orders to travel upstream the mighty Columbia River. For weeks I had imagined being in Oregon; I wanted to go ashore and explore the quaint little town at the mouth of the Columbia River, and the oldest American settlement west of the Rockies at the end of the Lewis and Clark Trail, but no one was permitted to disembark our ship, not even the captain. I borrowed Dad’s coveted binoculars and spent hours spotting houses across the river stacked up on the hill, reminiscent of photographs of San Francisco, and wildlife watching. It was up the Columbia River where I first caught sight of a pair of majestic bald eagles gliding over the water.
A few days later, a pilot launch pulled up alongside our ship and a marine pilot climbed the wood-and-rope boarding ladder to steer our cargo ship upriver to the Port of Portland. This was the Peruvian cargo ship’s final destination; the beginning of my family’s new life and driving adventure across the United States of America!
Life continues to be an adventure for me. Who would have guessed 53 years later I would be returning to live in Astoria? When dear friends from California moved to Astoria a few years ago I visited, and kept returning yearly. During my first visit in August of 2010, we were out and about exploring the Sunday Market when I spotted colorful apartment buildings perched on a hill. I casually commented to friends about the building’s unique architectural design, interesting multicolor façade, and proximity to the historic downtown with river views and nature out the front door. I promptly contacted the managers to inquire about the availability of a one-bedroom apartment. Since there were no rental vacancies at the time, I asked the managers to add my name to the waitlist. When an apartment became available I jumped at the chance to return to live in the Pacific Northwest.
Having recently moved to Astoria, I was unpacking, settling in to my river view apartment, and ticking items off my never-ending To-Do list. The last item on my list was furniture for my lovely balcony, where I would sit with my awesome vista of the Columbia River. Truth be told, shopping is one of my least favorite activities, so naturally, I procrastinated and kept putting off going on the hunt for garden furniture. Late one afternoon Michele, who had come from City Lumber to deliver new blinds, came to the rescue and jotted down the store’s website for me to peruse lawn and garden furniture at my leisure.
Lucky me! While scrolling down page after page of chair and side table images, I spot a familiar item reminiscent of the 1950’s Bouncer chairs. Fret no more; the simple, classic white Retro Metal Tulip chair and matching side table is must-have décor for postage-stamp size balcony.
A week later Michele delivered the boxes of unassembled chairs and table. “They’re easy and pretty straight-forward to put together,” she said, smiling. “I can help, if you’d like.” My friends know when it comes to tasks requiring the use of hand tools I am somewhat accident-prone. Not wanting a repeat of the Christmas Eve screwdriver mishap and another embarrassing visit to the Emergency Room, I jumped at Michele’s offer.
The following morning while we chatted away, Michele sat on the living room floor and effortlessly assembled chairs and table. The 1950’s era inspired Retro furniture not only brings a touch of nostalgia to cozy balcony; it’s a lovely addition to my shabby chic eclectic apartment furnishings and accessories from around the world. Just looking at it takes me back instantly to my childhood days in Peru, South America.
My grandmamma first became acquainted with Sears & Roebuck when my grandpapa had a post in the Peruvian Embassy in Washington, DC. The family leased a house in Chevy Chase, Maryland, where they lived for several years, until my grandpapa was recalled back to Peru. It was during their diplomatic stay in the States that my grandparents became true fans of “Made in USA” quality consumer goods sold by Sears. They purchased and shipped several sets of the sturdy metal garden furniture for their newly built home in Miraflores, a suburb of Lima where I grew up.
I grew up with a keen interest in the family history, and as a young girl I was somewhat curious and intrigued with my grandparents’ business travel and shopping adventures in the States and Europe. My nanny would often find me sitting quietly in my grandpapa’s study looking at the colorful maps in the National Geographic World Atlas, or standing by the floor globe tracking their trip with dancing little fingers, anticipating my grandparents’ arrival with a new little treasure just for me.
Now I want to satisfy my mild obsession with my grandparent’s Sears metal garden furniture’s ocean journey to South America. Alas, beloved grandpapa and grandmamma have long since passed away, and I am left with only my imagination. In my minds eye, I see the Sears truck pulling up alongside a cargo ship docked at New York City port to deliver the boxes of “Made in USA” sturdy steel garden furniture. The ships’ crew carefully packs box after box inside metal container on deck, along with other shipments. When the ship finally pulls up anchor, it slowly makes its way down the Atlantic passing through the Panama Canal, entering the Pacific it heads southbound traveling along the coastline to its final destination – Peru. Upon arrival and clearing Customs with port authorities in Callao, the boxes are loaded onto a Sears truck and delivered to my grandparents’ house in Miraflores, where the household staff, under the direction of the butler, assembled the red and white Bouncer chairs and matching side tables.
The chairs were popular with adults and children alike, especially after church on Sunday when the extended family would gather in my grandparent’s garden. The Sunday family luncheon was a leisurely but formal weekly event. Butlers and maids served customary Pisco sour cocktails and hors d’oeuvres followed by a multiple-course luncheon. Musical entertainment followed the four-hour leisurely lunch and the adults would adjourn to sit outdoors on the comfortable Bouncer chairs to enjoy an after lunch espresso, and watch the grandchildren at play.
When our family moved to the United States in 1960, my parents purchased Bouncer chairs and a glider from Sears for our house in Connecticut. I have fond memories sitting outside the front porch on hot summer evenings, sharing stories and sipping Mom’s homemade lemonade. Since my siblings and I embraced everything American with gusto, the latest rock and roll tunes played over and over on the families’ record player. Sunday’s when Dad was at home, he insisted we mix it up a bit and also play Latin tunes, and pretty soon we’d all be dancing across the front porch of our house.
And now, sixty plus years after my grandmamma discovered Sears Bouncer metal garden furniture, thanks to globalization, the same 1950s era inspired Retro Metal Tulip garden furniture is alive and well. My furniture, like my grandparent’s, also had long ocean voyage aboard bulk carrier to the United States, traveling from Asia across the Pacific, up the Columbia River to Portland, and delivered by truck to Astoria.
What a delight to have the best seat in the house to while away the hours contemplating beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and the ever-changing Columbia River scene from my balcony oasis, Latin jazz tunes lingering in the air, and my laptop at the ready for me to play with words.
Keeping the family’s retro metal garden furniture tradition alive happened, of course, like most things in my life, rather serendipitously.