The white wicker rocking chair creaked as it tilted with agonizing slowness forward, back, forward, back, forward, back.
Its occupant stared into the distance, tender eyes shielded from the sun by the porch roof. Eyelids blinked slowly, the only sign of life beyond the gentle rock of the chair. Forward, back, forward, back, forward, back.
Life buzzed around the chair, never piercing the reverential space with its presence, but only stating its existence with its noises and smells. The sharp bark of a dog with a temper too big for its body, the shrill laughter of children, the char of grilling meat, the splash of water as something large and living met its surface.
But the chair only rocked. Forward, back, forward, back, forward, back.
Finally, something dared to enter the chair’s sacred sphere of stillness, and the rocking stopped. The occupant raised a white-haired head, drooping eyelids rising behind wire-rimmed spectacles to better view this audacious visitor.
It was a woman. Her auburn hair was streaked with gray, and lines edged her eyes and mouth. She dropped a hand lightly on the rocker’s shoulder, stooping a little.
“Lunch is almost ready, Mama,” the woman said loudly. “Would you like me to fix you a plate?”
“Eh? What’d you say, darlin’?” the occupant asked. She turned her head to the side.
“Would you like me to fix your lunch?”
“Well, yeah,” the rocker said. “Whatcha got brewin’ down there?”
“There’s hotdogs, and burgers, and chips. Tony brought baked beans, and Sandra made those deviled eggs you like.”
“That sounds mighty nice, darlin’,” the rocker nodded.
“So what would you like?”
The younger woman sighed. “What would you like me to put on your plate?”
“Well, a little bit of everythin’, I guess.”
The woman hesitated. “Alright, Mama, I’ll bring it right up.”
“OK. Thank ya, darlin’.” And the chair began to rock once more. The rocker continued to stare down at this effusion of life that gathered below the feet of the high old Southern porch that sheltered her solitary perch. A somber smile came to her lips, tugging at the endless web of wrinkles spread over her skin. The cause of this smile came bounding up the steps to the porch. A girl, perhaps six or seven, raced inside the house, red-faced and panting. The rocker’s smile widened, even as the child spared her not a glance.
Silence reigned again for a moment before the girl came hurrying out again, a soccer ball clutched in her thin arms. This time, her eyes caught upon the rocker, and she smiled tightly before rushing away again. The rocker chuckled to herself. So much life in such a little body. So much innocence. A child as that knew nothing; but alas, the rocker herself had been much the same. The young have little patience for the struggle of time. Nor its remnants.
Another visitor climbed the stately steps, approaching the rocker with a heavier, slower gait. A large waisted man sat on a bench across from the rocker, leaning against the white railing of the porch as he gazed at the little occupant of the rocking chair.
“Hot day, innit?” he asked around a beard thicker than his slurring drawl.
“Eh?” The rocker turned sharply to face the man.
“Hot day, innit?” the man repeated louder.
“Don’t see how you can stand to be in that sweatshirt.”
The rocker laughed lowly. “When you get as old as me, the heat don’t stay in. Just bounces off.”
The man snorted, sipping from a Coke can in his hand. “Cathy bringin’ you food?”
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Good. I brought them beans you like.”
“Yeah, she said.” The rocker leaned forward, hands feebly gripping the armrests of the rocking chair. She groaned as she shifted in the chair to better face him.
“Need a hand?”
“No,” sharply said, even as she groaned again.
“Why don’t you let Sandra get you a better chair?”
The rocker smiled, a bit of bitter mischief in the expression. “I’ve had this chair for twenty years. Keeps me awake.”
“Yeah, that’s ‘cause it’s so hard.”
She chuckled. “Yep.” And she began to rock again. Forward, back, forward, back, forward, back.
The man shook his head, turning to look over the porch railing. The rocker followed his gaze to two boys kicking the soccer ball as the little girl tried vainly to steal it back from them.
“How they doin’ in school?”
“Hmm?” The man turned back at the rocker’s sudden question.
“Your kids, how they doin’ in school?”
“Pretty good. Jessie loves it. Ryan’s still havin’ problems with math.”
“Hmm. Never did like math myself. Neither did you.”
The man laughed. “Yeah, I ‘member me and Dad workin’ over geometry for hours.”
The rocker smiled. “He always had a head for that sort of thing. Not me.”
“I dunno, Mama, you used to keep us on a budget nice.”
“That’s just figures and numbers. Not all them measurements and angles and…” She trailed off, giving a sharp shake of her head. “Not for me.” Both looked up as a step sounded on the porch. The woman had returned.
“Here ya go, Mama.” She placed the plate on an old cardboard table just within reach of the rocking chair along with a red Solo cup. “Can I get you anything else?”
“No, darlin’, that looks just fine. Thank ya.”
“You’re welcome,” the woman smiled a little too broadly. “Come fix your plate, Tony.”
“Aight. Enjoy your meal, Mama.” The man rose from his bench.
“Thank ya, darlin’.”
The two left as the rocker pulled the plate into her lap and bowed her head to murmur a blessing.
She had just put the half-finished plate away when a final visitor came into her detached realm. This was a tow-headed boy of ten or eleven, dirt streaking down his jeans and his hair slick with sweat. He plopped down on the bench much as his father had done earlier, panting.
The rocker hummed in her throat amusedly. “Worn out?”
“Yeah,” the boy said, pushing a hand through his hair.
“‘Spect so, with all that runnin’.”
“Yeah.” He leaned forward, elbows on knees. He stared down at the children in the grass, his profile a miniature of his father.
“Had a good lunch?” the rocker asked, attempting conversation.
“Yeah.” He leaned back again. “Nana, why d’you always stay in that chair?”
“What’d you say, darlin’?” she asked. The boy repeated his question louder.
“Oh,” the rocker smiled, “I’m not much good at runnin’ anymore, honey.”
“You don’t gotta run just to come sit down there with us!” the boy replied, a hint of that hereditary sardonic humor in his voice.
“Naw, darlin’, I’m happy right here watchin’ y’all. ‘Sides, what ‘m I gonna do down there?”
“Talk to people. See everybody.”
The rocker shook her head. “I’m good righ’ here, darlin’. I’m where I can do the most good, outta everybody’s way.”
“You’re not in the way.”
“Well, thank ya, darlin’.”
The two sat in silence for a moment, listening to the gathering below and the creak of the rocking chair. Forward, back, forward, back, forward, back. But the brief burst of wisdom from the young boy was soon to be overtaken by the tendency of youth to withdraw from problems they feel they cannot fix. And his mother was beginning to serve dessert.
“Well, I’ll see ya later, Nana.”
“OK, darlin’. Here, take that plate to your mama and get her to throw it away, ok? Thank ya, darlin’.” And the rocker was left alone again in her reclusive corner of the world, the little wicker rocking chair thumping its slow rhythm. Forward, back, forward, back, forward, back.
There were many days like this one, many gatherings of life at the feet of the old Southern porch. Each one left the rocker quieter, as sounds grew softer and conversations grew shorter. For who would dare to disturb this little corner of peace? Surely it would be better to let it stay restful. Who could bereave the rocker of her solitude? Surely it would be better to stay away. Who could get through the fog of time around her mind? Surely it would be better not to try.
But though the rocker never spoke a word, she was forever talking. She watched her little family, her daughters and her son-in-law, her grandsons and granddaughter. And though she never moved from the chair, she lifted them up. And though their faces and voices rarely came into her little sanctuary, she kept their memories with her always.
And one day, when the little wicker rocking chair stood still, they would gather around it and wonder. What had gone through the mind of the rocker? How many miles had she traveled in that little chair? What secrets had floated away on the wind of memory with each creak of the chair?
For who could imagine that while their minds were far from the rocker and her chair, her thoughts were never far from them? Who could imagine what prayers had been raised while in that chair? Who could imagine what battles had been fought in calling out to the Lord from that Southern porch?
Only the little wicker rocking chair.