It doesn't surprise me when a kitchen chair breaks. Wha surprises me is when all the chairs are safe to sit on.
That rare occurrence happened in our kitchen at 7:48 Tuesday night. That was when I finished screwing the replacement seats on three disabled chairs. We now have eight kitchen chairs in working order.
There are only four of us in the family. But experience has taught me that you need a 2-to-1 chair-to-family member ratio, to ensure you have a seat at the supper table.
Our kitchen chairs are nothing special. They have metal U-shaped legs and backs, and wicker-like seats and back supports.
Like most kitchen chairs they see a lot of action. In addition to mealtime duty, they serve as step stools, newspaper storage areas, and, when pushed together by bored kids on rainy days, they form a "train."
The seats of our chairs take the brunt of the wear. Each seat has a wood rim, but the majority of the surface is made of the wicker-like material. The seat has holes in it, decorative holes. This makes the chairs light and gives the seat an airy look.
It also means that a curious kid can see if a pencil will fit through the holes.
When the seat material begins to stretch, the holes that were once impenetrable become accommodating. First a pencil is sent through the opening. Then a table knife, next maybe a toy dinosaur's tail, and eventually a tennis ball would roll through.
By tennis ball time, the hole resembles a crater, with pieces of the material streaming from the hole like lava from a volcano. Chairs with seats that have "erupted" get pushed into the basement for repairs.
There have been times when we had more kitchen chairs in the basement than in the kitchen.
In the eight or so years we have owned these chairs, I have developed a chair-repair strategy. Patching the holes is out of the question. Even Red Adair, the guy who caps wild oil wells, couldn't plug up these openings. Instead I let the hole "play itself out," then replace the whole seat.
The seats are easy to replace. Four Phillips screws hold the seat onto the chair's frame.
The hard part has been locating the replacement seats.
These chairs started off as bargains. My wife bought them at a going-out-of business price, at an office furniture store down near the harbor. For a while this store carried a supply of replacement seats. But then the parent company went into bankruptcy, and the seat parts became scare.
That meant that whenever I had a spare moment, I got on the phone and called furniture stores looking for replacement seats.
Usually I failed. But one rainy Saturday I found an office-furniture store on York Road that said it had one. The the store was closing in an hour. I jumped in the car and raced there to get the seat. What a find.
Another time I made the mistake of having two broken seats "caned" by a professional. The fellow wove new seats, with cane. It was hand work, and beautifully done.
The trouble was the cost of getting these two seats repaired was about equal to the purchase price of eight new chairs.
Moreover, it didn't bother me much when I saw a pencil working on a hole in one of the "cheap seats." But when I saw signs of an impending crater on one of the "fancy seats," my knees would buckle.
Recently I found another furniture store, a mere 20 miles from my home, that carries the replacement seats. The store was out of seats at the time I called. But I put in an order, and after a few weeks' wait, drove to the Hunt Valley Mall to pick up my chair parts.
The three seats cost $75. I noticed that for that amount of money I could have bought four folding chairs. The folding chairs were black, made of stylish plastic. And they didn't have any holes in the seats.
I was tempted, for a moment, to switch styles of kitchen chairs.
But the new chairs wouldn't match the old chairs.
Besides, I've gotten real good at fixing the old ones.