The Rocker

Easy answer: Grandma's rocking chair.

The question: " I arranged for a few beloved furniture items to be put into (climate controlled!) storage this week, it made me want to know about pieces of furniture that you’ve loved through the years. They don’t have to be fancy, or “beautiful,” or even, necessarily, useful. They just have to be beloved. Tell us about them, and why you cherished it or it looms large in your memory, with as much detail as you’re able to recall or reproduce."

This prompt in the subscribers-only space of Anne Helen Petersen's Culture Study publication led me straight to the rocking chair that sits in our living room, covered with a deep crimson velour blanket to hide the worst of the peeling dark brown paint.

When I was born at St. Joseph Medical Center in Lewiston, Idaho, my Grandma Humphrey rocked me in this chair. She worked there many years as a licensed practical nurse and when she retired they gave her the rocker. Then it went to my parents' house, and at some point it became mine because of that story.

Grandma becoming a nurse is a big piece of what makes the rocker special. She married at 18 to a man 20 years her senior (which was so scandalous they each fudged their birth years a bit on the marriage certificate to shrink the gap). She was the youngest of 13 children and knew nothing about how to live in the world; he had to teach her to cook, clean, run the household. She had three children, my mom being the oldest and only girl. 

When Grandpa H. dropped dead of a heart attack in his 70s she was in her mid 50s. Grandma had never driven a car, held a job, or signed a checkhe handled all of that for the household. She was all set to move straight into "old age" and rely on my mom for everything. Mom had four kids at the time (I'm one of the last two "late in life" babies she hadn't had yet) and really didn't have time to drive Grandma everywhere or have Grandma relying on her for all emotional support. 

So Mom gave her a fierce pep talk along the lines of "you can be an old woman now, or you can have a life and be an old woman many years from now. Which is it going to be?" 

Grandma went to school, became a licensed practical nurse, learned to drive, made friends, joined two bridge clubs and a bowling group. She became the woman who taught me to knit and tat and bowl, and always had the store-bought waffle cookies in vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry that we called "Grandma cookies".

Mom telling me this story was part of her raising me to be a feminist; she told me to be sure I could take care of myself and never to rely on a man for everything.

Fast forward to 2021. I was planning to sand the rocker down, paint it, and put it out on my deck so I posted a pic on Facebook to ask for advice. In the serendipitous world of social media I got all kinds of strongly worded good advice about how bad that would be for the rocker. It turned out a long-ago acquaintance has another friend who is a rocking chair FANATIC (has a collection of he's-not-sure-how-many). He told me it's an army knuckle arm Windsor rocking chair with saddle joints where the legs meet the rockers, and I had to look all that up to have any design context. He also offered to buy it from me. It is not for sale.

I now need to find a professional to do a really good job of the refinishing, hence the blanket hiding its shabbiness. (This is not shabby chic; it's just shabby.) 

It represents both my beloved grandma and how my also beloved stay-at-home mom raised me not to repeat the dependent parts of Grandma's life trajectory but to make my own way. Sitting in a refurbished rocker will represent my gratitude to both of them for the lessons. Rock on, ladies.

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