In the early summer of 1942, in rural Geneseo, New York, a father decided to make his daughter an icon for their family’s porch. He had been called to war and the person he’d miss the most was his little baby girl. She was only 6 years old; just brilliant enough to smile back at what he was about to say to her…..the last words they’d ever share. “My darling, I love you with all my heart…I always want you to remember that. Please…take special care of your mother for me. I’m going away for a while, and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.” Peeling away the faded burgundy striped sheet from the white wooden gift he’d built for her, he asked her to promise one thing….”until my return, I want you to sit out front each evening while the sun goes down and think of me. This here rocking chair is yours so take good care of it. It’s our little way of communicating….when you sit in it, make believe it’s me cradling you to sleep on those cold lonely nights. I promise you, if you watch straight clear out over those hills there, one clear day you’ll see me coming home to my baby.”
She promised as if it was a secret she’d been meant to carry to her grave. Years passed by; nearly forty to be exact. And like most things built in those days by the crafted hands of our worthiest generation, the chair still held in sturdy worn condition. Geneseo had become a college town. One where those hills she knew every curve, pine and boulder, soon became lost in the dorm rooms and precarious steel stadiums erected on property she’d long had to sell. Although that was supposed to be her father’s most direct path back to her stoop, she knew any traveling he’d be doing was by bits and pieces as he’d said in dreams they’d share.
Nearly that same 40th year down on Long Island a kid was born who would attend Geneseo. A person completely unrelated to the old woman whom by the time of his attendance she’d be near 70 years old. She had no relation, and for all she had known, he would be just another of the thousand to have walked her sidewalk while she rocked in her chair admiring the chill the wind never forgot to offer. After three years in attendance his friends came to visit. Those were nights where they escaped the watchful eye of their parents being 6 hours too far away from home. Any more reason to get drunk would be far beyond obvious. The boy was mocked constantly and rendered “the old man” by his peers as he retired to his apartment far earlier than his cronies. These guys were not troublemakers. Not to be known for fights or anything other than fantastic senses of humor mixed with male testosterone. As the night grew later and less and less ladies could be found amongst the establishments they’d loitered, frustration set in. More like Neanderthals, they wandered the streets hoping the night would never end. Creating action in whatever motion presented itself; devious laughs and exclamations like ”who gives a shit” meant open invitations to prove ones masculinity since, well, anything meant go. As the old woman lay in bed ignoring normal screams of obnoxious antics, she’d still appreciated her tiny home and the brittle wooden boards that laid snug in the floor of her front deck. As his friends made their way up the driveway to the apartments known as Courtside, they’d seen something as tempting and fulfilling in their need for destruction that they couldn’t pass it up. There was no one left to impress except themselves, yet the laugh they’d expect was far worth its demise. Snatching up 70 years of love and history off the deck, the biggest of the three took it by both arched legs and swung it hard round several times with his body like an Olympic discus practice. Assuming nothing of its sentimental value, these men, and I call them men because there’s no better way to demoralize their action then to parallel its childishness to their age; they went ahead and mistook this legacy as something made in Ikea for less than twenty dollars. As he released the chair they all fell silent. Careening through the air it was like a body ejected from a car, flailing uncontrollably before gravity ended its artistic form. You could hear them breathing with dumbfounded stares as if they had no idea what would happen. Just like the bones of a human the chair shattered without even a battle. There wasn’t even an extra piece big enough to pick up and break over their knees. It deserved no more abuse, and offered no other possible opportunity for it.
Throughout the night the pieces stayed scattered on the apartment building driveway as students drove over them. No one had any idea of the cause, the effect, the reason…..they really didn’t care. The following morning the old woman walked outside and picked up the lifeless remains that were nearly as important as her father. It’d all been far more different than she’d ever imagined because that’s what life is. The unexpected changes that one person we might never meet or know, has on others. She dragged a puke green wheel-less garbage pail with a hole at the bottom along her grass that butted up to the driveway to the apartment building. It seemed like she wanted to make it harder on herself rather than walk the same paved line those boys must’ve treaded hours earlier. Branches popped out of the top of the lid as she’d done yard work throughout the week. She piled her favorite chair in with the branches; each piece of wood still as much alive as the day it hit the ground.
When she finished, she turned back, tugging, flexing, breathing….tugging, flexing, breathing. Every bump in her lawn she’d fight the garbage pail over, and each automatic thud sprinkled little pieces of painted chips and branches out the crack in the bottom like natural fertilizer. When she turned around to get a better grip with both hands, she saw the light white streak she’d left trailing behind her over the grass. The path towards home that he promised she’d see him make. It wasn’t until then that she started to cry. She’d never thought she’d have the chance to help him fight his way out; to bring him back home to the place he loved, and to keep him there forever even after she’s gone. It wasn’t until the night of the Neanderthals that she finally thanked her father for every single day she’d stared eager at those vacant hills, as he’d given her the opportunity to finally bury him in his own backyard.