The grieving chair

 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

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10 thoughts on “The grieving chair

  1. God, I admire your writing. You fit entire lifetimes into your short vignettes–and moving ones to boot.

    What a story–how a simple rocking chair reflects on the complex human heart.

    1. Thank you once again, Lily’s mom. I wrote this about two a.m. It came out in a burst, and I did not edit it. I started out to write something else, about never really connecting with my mom, but I guess she had other ideas. She only told me this story once.

      1. And so the connection, frail though it is, was there all along. Stories like that give me hope for the relationship between me and my daughter, since my mother and I never really connected either…

  2. Truly poignant. Thank you for letting the story come out as it wanted to come out. When I got to the part of the little girl slipping off to stand by her mama’s casket, it reminded me of something a co-worker told me once. She was in her late teens or early twenties when her mother died from a cerebral hemorrhage. She had a little brother and he would stand in the mother’s closet and wrap himself in her clothes, taking in his mother’s scent, like she was embracing him again. I thought that was the saddest thing, until now. I think no one ever really recovers from a loss like that at such a tender age.

  3. Oh, and your comment about peritonitis is so true. My grandmother’s sister died of it after a burst appendix at age 18. I have a photo of her and she was lovely. Now, something like that can easily be prevented with antibiotics. How lucky we are.

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