A house is where you reside; a home is your anchor in the world. At the moment, we are looking for a house and are trying to carry the spirit of home. We have traveled and even lived away from our home for periods of time. Yet we always had a physical place filled with the tangible things of the history of our family to anchor us.
The risk we face now is letting the desire for the physical place, filled with tangible things, supersede our home. Our home is anchored not by a physical place or tangible things but by a spirit of love, tolerance, struggle and forbearance.
Each time we open a box with something new we have to remember that losing our physical anchor in the world does not mean we are cut adrift from our history. The fire is as much our history as were the photographs lost forever. They each bring a prodding of the spirit because we know the true experience of both. In that prodding we know home.
This is a story about a tangible piece of family history, the rocking chair that my mother rocked us in. I wrote it two and a half years before the fire on the day it first arrived at my house from my mother’s estate. I am glad I have the story and a poor electronic photo of the chair (see below).
The Rocking Chair
When I was closing the house for the night, I paused to see how you were fitting in. I sat in you taking in the sweetness of familiarly that only comes when the love runs deep and the separation long. I leaned back and closed my eyes and heard your familiar creaks. I felt the sweet curve of your wooden arms and how my hands fit over the top with the roll of wood pressed against my palms letting me rest my weary hands. You sooth my word-worn hands made old and arthritic from too many years at the keyboard and not enough time using them at tasks for the heart. The sinuous curves of your arms remind me how to feel different. Not just feel differently from what I have felt, but how to understand the way I feel and then learn a different way. Funny how a tactile sensation can affect the wisdom you use.
As I rock, I realize that I want to lovingly care for you; bring back your finish that faded from too many years of hard work and not enough care. As I sit down on the floor with good furniture cleaner and conditioner, I notice that you show marks of your past. I see embedded in the paint of the seat a faded design that could only have come from a circular braided rag pad. I see white paint scrapes where you were rocked against the wall. I see your recesses where you had gilt paint filled with dust from so many years that only one who knows you would know there was gold.
My grandmother and my mother died a few weeks and three states apart from each other. Since that time, many of their things have found their way to my house. You, rocking chair, are one of the special guests. You are more than a guest; you are a reminder of what is tender in life. You have some bald places, what antique dealers call “appropriate wear for a chair of this age.” I suppose I show appropriate wear too, like the way my skin is beginning to hang in folds and wrinkles since I eschew face-lifts. Lifting my face is as abhorrent to me as refinishing your wood. Neither of us would choose to garner vanity and in so lose the wisdom and character shown by our “appropriate wear marks.”
So with my fine-wood cleanser and conditioner I rubbed you down making sure that I reached each spindle and each strut, your rockers and your seat, your routed decorative trim and your head piece against which many heads have lain. As I rubbed, I could not help but ask you what you had seen. Had you seen love, had you seen joy, had you seen hate, had you seen reconciliation? I know you saw my youth-pain brought about by not fitting with the “in crowd.” You rocked my heart from breaking. When I learned that the “in crowd” was not what defined me, I rocked all my self-doubt into you—if the “in crowd” did not define me what crowd did?
I asked you if you could tell me of those things all furniture bears witness to. I suppose some furniture sees love and some furniture see hatred and violence. Families come in those varieties and I imagine furniture sees their families. I wonder if those that see hard lives also glimpse the moments when the hardness breaks and goodness is found. Perhaps the mother who is hit took comfort in her chair, rocking her comfort into her child. Maybe those stolen moments are the ones that give solace among the hours of violence when a family member has not learned the lesson of love you give, dear rocking chair.
I do know the intentions vested in you in your life were ones of honor and joy. I do not know your whole history but I do know that you were a gift from a grandmother to a mother. The grandmother said, “Every mother needs to rock their child.” I have known you since I was rocked in you more than a half a century ago. I gaze at each “appropriate wear mark” and wonder if it is linked to me. Did someone rub their hands across your arms where the paint is worn thin as they rocked me? Did the scratches on the back come from me as a child not understanding the nature of rockers and the space they need to work? Did I need space so I came to you hoping that there was enough in your rockers? Did I rock furiously to dispel the anguish of a young heart? I think I did.
I picked the place for you in our home long before you came. Not unlike a parent picking a name for a long-awaited child, I picked your spot. I knew your wisdom and where it was needed most in my home. You have come to live in the reading area of my office. You will remind me that the keyboard is not life and that reading may well be. I can imagine reading work papers about the creation, change or destruction of our world. I can read about cosmoses forming. I can read about nanotechnology. I can read others dreams and I can even read what I have written. You will rock me regardless of what I read. You treat the good and the bad the same; you rock me into contemplation so that I can figure out what is good and what is not.
I rubbed out the impression of the rag pad that someone put on you like an ill-fitting cloak. I polished your seat and I lovingly dusted your spindles. I lifted the dust and found your gold. I polished my life in polishing you.
Welcome home, dear rocking chair. You are loved.