Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The creak of rocking chairs

What a lovely day today. Sunny and starting to warm up. Outside, there are many little bulbs which are beginning to bloom, many I do not know the name of. Daffodils (jonquils) and grape hyacinths, snowdrops and little tiny yellow crocuses. Spring is indeed here.

I sat outside, in the back, and visited with my Mom on the cell phone, my chair pointed north to where I could keep my eyes on the snow-clad mountains. These are not the high, high mountains around here, they are smaller ones, covered to the top, with pine and fir. I love living where I can watch them.

When we told our neighbor about the mountain lion we saw the other day, he said that a couple of weeks ago, he was standing on his front porch looking across the road (where I walk) and saw something brown streak through the trees. He said it was not a deer, as it was not bounding. It ran fast and low to the ground.

Today, I thought of the creaking of rocking chairs. When I sit in an old chair and hear that sound, it takes me back to when I was a child, living alone with my dad. Almost every weekend, Dad would drive us to see the "old folks," which meant Aunt Hazel and Uncle Amos, or Grampa, or Aunt Bea and Uncle Harold.

They'd sit in the living room at Aunt Hazel's and I can see it yet. Uncle Amos is lounging on what we'd call today a "daybed," but it was simply a broken-down twin bed in the living room for the dogs to lie on. The hounds would be there, too, stretched out and oblivious to the old folk's neighborly chats.

Aunt Hazel is sitting in one rocker by the picture window and Dad occupies another rocker facing her, also near the window. As they talk, there are also long pauses of silence. No TV or radio in the background, no playing children babbling away. And no need to feel awkward in those quiet pauses. Just rocking, rocking, creaking, creaking. Behind Dad is an old, out-of-tune, upright piano and on top of that is a mantle clock, its ticking punctuates the creaking.

Dad's name was Larry and thus he was known to everyone. But Aunt Hazel would call him Lawrence, with a strong emphasis on the LAW....LAW-rence.....

I might be playing with toys that Aunt Hazel had in boxes and baskets in the corner, next to an old decorative Christmas fireplace...nothing fancy here, these were very poor folks. The fireplace was for kids and was made of corrugated cardboard. And it stayed up in that corner of the living room all year long.

In the winter, and if my older sister and brother were with me, we might go sliding on the hill across the road. Sometimes we slid down on an old car hood which was always thrilling and dangerous.

In the summer, I couldn't wait to get to Aunt Hazel's, when, as soon as we arrived, I'd run out to the decrepit barn in the back. The delapidated barn was filled with old harness hanging from pegs, old buggies down the center aisle, musty hay and straw in long-unused stalls. Someone boarded her horse in that barn, and horse-crazy kid that I was, I'd hang out with the fat mare and dream about riding her (but I never did). I'd also play around in the loft of the barn and search for the barn kittens. Trying to catch them, I'd always get bitten and scratched by the wild furballs.

Even a horselover can get tired of mooning over a horse she doesn't own and can't ride, so eventually, I'd tire of the barn and then, there wasn't a whole lot to do. So I'd end up behind my Dad's rocker and when his chair would rock back close to me, I'd whisper in his ear, "When are we going home?"

He'd ignore me, or say, "Soon." But it was never soon enough once boredom had set in. I had no interest in whatever they were talking about.

My great-grandmother, Grammie, used to live there. She had diabetes very badly and I can remember her legs up on a footstool and her toenails were very black. Eventually, she was placed into a nursing home because the doctors kept cutting off her legs until she only had a torso. On the day she died, my Dad took me with him to the nursing home and while he sat and watched at her bedside (my Dad loved and honored his grandmother very much), I ran and jumped and played on the rocks in the fields out back, not realizing the morbidity of the day.

My grampa also used to live there, not in the house, but in a little "camp" across the road. Grampa was dirt poor. His camp was so small, it had room for just an ancient, iron, double bed and a wood cookstove and a table to sit at. The sheets were so dirty, I wondered if anyone ever washed them for him. Grampa smoked a pipe and I can still smell that wonderful odor in his camp, and hear the ticking of the clock. Always, the ticking of the clock.

One day, Grampa went out and chopped a lot of firewood, and had a cerebral hemmorage. They took him to the hospital and Dad went to there to be with his father. I was about ten years old and stayed home. Looking for something to do, and very upset about what was happening with my dear Grampa, I took to sliding on my sled from off the snowbanks into the road. One time, I almost was run over by a car for I wasn't paying attention, I was crying over Grampa.

Grampa was something special. He trained horses and he never had any money. He didn't ride horses, he trained them for pulling wagons and sleds. He was very good at it. He had a great sense of humor, too and loved to play tricks on me. How I loved that old guy! When he came to our house for dinner, my sister and I would sit up straight and keep our hands folded in front of us, on the table, until it was time to eat. That was considered good Yankee manners.

Did you ever hear the phrase: "Go to bed when it's dark under the table?" That was how I was raised, as a small child, being told to go to bed when it was dark under the table. In the winter, this was very early!

We were pretty poor growing up, too, and had an outhouse way out back. I was afraid of the dark at that time and hated going out there to do nature's calling. I don't remember that we kept any pots in the house, either, so you either went way out there or you didn't go. When I was about 12, my Dad added a real bathroom onto the little house, and I nailed the seat shut on the outhouse and made it a clubhouse for me and the kids up the road, for our "Horse Club."

How thankful am I to have the sort of childhood I had. Oh, there were some sad moments, like when my folks broke up and divorced and I had to split each holiday in half, spending the mornings of Christmas with my Dad, then feeling guilty about leaving him alone as I went to my Mom's for the rest of the day. But, by and large, I had mostly happy times and good memories and found strong principles instilled in me to this day. I grew up cherishing the old ways and country life.

And that's just fine by me!

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