At Christmastime in 1922, a mother in Winchester Kansas gave her beautiful four-year-old daughter a lovely carved rocking chair.
The little girl, who 20 years later would give birth to me in the parlor of that same house, rocked joyfully in the chair for a bit more than a month before her mother slowly died of peritonitis in her parent’s upstairs bedroom. In those almost barbaric days before penicillin, it was a sure killer, and a painful one.
Mary was the youngest of five and came along unexpectedly, the surprise child born to older parents, but dearly loved. I am sure she was surrounded by distraught adults who didn’t really understand the shock and panic of a small girl who was losing her mother.
In those days the wake was held at home. The casket was in the parlor. The family sat and quietly talked and wept, and sometimes Mary would vanish. They would open the parlor doors to find her standing beside her mama’s casket.
In the months following my grandmother’s death, as the adults decided who would would be her primary caregiver, this little girl would spend her days in the chair, rocking and weeping.
The chair survives to this day, surprisingly. My savage brothers broke off the arms to use as baseball bats, never realizing that those were the arms that once held a child whose world had exploded on a snowy day decades before.
One of my brothers is a master cabinet maker. Two years ago, he completely refurbished this treasure. It hangs in the rafters of his garage, waiting for the grand babies to rock the joy back into the grieving chair