The Rocking Chair
This was always a hard story for me to tell because, while my father has passed away, this wasn’t about me or my father. It was just a story that worked best in this particular voice. The idea of God’s restoration is something that moves me more than I can explain. This story tries to show some of that passion.
A man and his aging father find an old rocking chair. The father repairs the chair and then takes it back to the original owners.
We are God’s workmanship. We are created by God, and yet life and our own messed up choices have hurt us to the point where we barely look recognizable. Through Jesus and the cross God offers us reconciliation and he lovingly takes his original creation and restores us to who we were created to be.
A few years ago before my dad passed away he and I were driving the back way to his house. I was 34 at the time or maybe 35. My dad rode beside me in my new black Nissan. It still felt weird for him to be sitting on my right instead of behind the wheel. I felt like I was kicking him out of his place. But his eyes had gotten bad and sometime his hands shook and I didn’t feel like riding at half of the speed limit “just to be safe.” So even though it still felt wrong, most of the time when we went out I would drive.
We were drifting through the neighborhoods of our small town—turning at some stop signs, rolling through others. We weren’t talking much, but enjoying each other’s company.
“Stop the car!” my dad said suddenly and I threw on the brakes. We both lurched forward as the car tires squealed.
“What is it?” I shouted looking for whatever danger my father had seen.
“Back up,” he said, “I want to get another look at that chair.”
“Trash!” I said a little too harshly, “You scared the crap out of me for trash!”
“You know I don’t like it when you talk like that,” my father said.
Shaking my head at his reprimand for using the word “crap” I put the car into reverse. I scanned the sides of the road as I backed up looking for what had caught my father’s eye. He was famous for spotting trash that he claimed “still had some life” in it along the sides of the road. It’s no surprise one of his first jobs were with the trash hauling service. I couldn’t remember how many times we had stopped on the side of road to throw an old ice chest or a moldy couch into the back of his beat up blue Chevy truck.
But we weren’t in his truck, and I wasn’t sure I wanted some old piece of furniture jammed into the trunk of my new car.
That was when I saw what had caught my dad’s eye. It was a simple wooden rocking chair done in the shaker style with clean, efficient lines and little ornamentation. The chair had seen better days. It was missing one runner and several spindles from the back. It had apparently been painted several times because I saw patches of green and red and white peeling from various places. But even through the paint and the disrepair I knew what had caught my father’s eye it was the small curl cut into the top rail. It was a simple design—the only ornamentation on this functional piece of furniture. The curl was cut through the wood leaving a hole that looked almost like a handle bar mustache—but with more elegance and grace. I knew the curl because the rocking chair that sat in my father’s living room right now bore the same mark as did many chairs found in the homes of various family members. I knew the curl because my grandfather had been a furniture maker years before and that curl had been his signature.
We pulled up to the curb out in front of a simple suburban house with grey siding. We could see the corner of a swing-set in the back yard which was surrounded by a chain link fence. As I turned off the ignition my father started the slow process of getting out of the car. He was never a man to get in a hurry and arthritis in his hip and hands made him move at a snail’s pace sometimes. Always trying to make speed him up I got out and came to his door and helped him out. We walked together up to the front door. A big wheel sat turned over on its side near the driveway. I had an uncanny urge to turn it back over and ride it down the street, but I resisted.
My father rang the doorbell. I stood a little off to the side waiting to see who would open the door. A boy about the age of six or seven with 2 missing teeth and a hand shaped smudge on his shirt opened the door. He stood looking at us for a moment through the glass of the storm door and then ran off into the house yelling for his mother. A few moments later a girl, who couldn’t have been much older than 25, appeared behind the storm door holding a baby girl. At her feet was our greeter accompanied by his younger brother.
“What do you want?” she said in a voice that almost dared us to waste her time.
“Sorry to bother you, M’am,” my father said, “But I saw your rocking chair out there and was wondering how you came by it”
“It belonged to my grandmother” she said and her face softened a bit with the memory, “I hate to throw it out, but it’s just trash now.”
“Would you mind if I took it and restored it?” my father asked. I rolled my eyes at this. He could barely get out of a car and yet he wanted to take home this pile of trash that was once a chair and try to restore it. I understood why he would want to, but I didn’t think it was possible.
“Mister,” the girl said, “I am throwing it away so you can take it and do whatever you want to with it.”
“Thank you, M’am” my father said and turned back towards the car. I wiggled my fingers at the two boys and nodded at their mother as she closed the door. My father walked purposefully down the driveway and started picking up the pieces of the rocker. I tried to stop him and told him to wait in the car while I figured out how we were going to get the thing home. He, of course, didn’t listen to me so together we wedged it into the trunk.
“I think you had better let me drive home,” my dad said. I laughed and assured him that I would drive slow.
The rocking chair made it back to my parent’s house and into my father’s workshop without any trouble. I told my father goodbye and went on with my life. Weeks went by and I forgot about that chair until one day Dad called me and told me he was finished with it and wanted me to take a look.
It was a few days before I took the time to go and check it out. We walked into his workshop together and I was assaulted by smell and memory. I had been in this place just a few weeks before when we had dropped off the chair, but at the time it had been sitting unused for a while. Now it smelled of sawdust and stain with a soft smell underneath that I knew to be my father’s sweat. The chair sat in the middle of the room. It was whole again. Dad had stripped off the years of paint and had rubbed a dark stain into the wood. He had applied coat after coat of varnish until the chair practically gleamed.
I looked at the work that he put into this old rocking chair. I thought of the arthritis in his hands and how it must have hurt him to sand between each of those spindles so that the next coat of polyurethane would adhere. I marveled at his work and his dedication.
“Dad, it’s beautiful,” I said, “A real work of art. Granddaddy would be proud.”
“I hope so,” he said, “I thought of him more over the past few weeks than I have in a long time. It was…special working on something that he worked on. You know, restoring something he created.” My dad trailed off then sort of lost in the memory of his own father. When he spoke again he was deep in a memory. “I must have watched him make hundreds of chairs just like this one, and bureaus and tables and headboards and just about anything that could be made out of wood. People used to come from miles around to buy his furniture.”
“I never knew that,” I said.
“O yes. Your granddaddy was known as one of the finest furniture makers in this area and his work could have commanded a premium price. But he never asked for one. He always sold his pieces at what he thought they were worth, which was nothing compared to what people would pay.”
“So what are you going to do with this one,” I asked nodding my head at the rocking chair.
“It isn’t mine.” he said, “I want us to take it back to the lady who owns it.”
“Dad, she told you that you could have it. After all of the work you have done you should sell it. It could probably sell for a thousand dollars easy. I bet there are even still people around here who remember your father and would love to have one of his chairs, especially one restored by his son.”
“But it isn’t mine to sell” he said again.
“You can’t give it back to that lady. Did you see what she did to it the first time?” I asked, annoyed by my father’s misplaced sense of honor.
“Every mother needs a good rocking chair.” he said with a small smile
“But, Dad, this isn’t just a chair this is art”
“No, it is a chair and it should be used. I don’t want it stuck in a house where people will look at it and talk about it, but not use it. I want it to be useful.” He looked me in the eyes then and I felt like I was a child again.
I loaded the chair into the back of my father’s truck and he hovered over me as I tied it down. Of course with the speed my father drove securing it was unnecessary, but he insisted. We drove down the road in silence. I remember clearly the look on his face, it was that same small smile, like he was part of something good and he knew it. I remember smiling too but not really knowing why.
We pulled up to the house at around supper time. The same big wheel was there, this time sitting upright in the front yard. It was joined by an action figure of some kind—Spiderman maybe. When the young woman answered the doorbell she looked at us trying to remember who we were. “Can I help you?” she asked as she opened the storm door, “We were just sitting down to eat.”
“I’m sorry to bother you, M’am, but I have finished your chair,” my father said like she had commissioned him for the work.
“What?” she asked, confused.
“The chair you threw out,” I said stepping onto the porch. “My father restored it and now he wants to give it back to you.”
“Oh, now I remember you two,” she said recognition coming into her face, “I said he could have that chair.”
“I know,” I said, “But he insists it belongs to you.”
“If you two will stop talking about me like I’m not even here” my father interrupted. “M’am I was honored to work on your chair, but your grandmother bought it from my father years ago so it is your chair. I was only sprucing it up a bit.”
Her eyes flicked then from us to the chair in the back of the truck. Her breath caught in her throat and her eyes came alive with wonder. “It looks just like it did when I was a little girl. I can remember climbing up in my grandmother’s lap. She would sing to me as she rocked me.” She realized that we were still standing there and blushed slightly. “I’m sorry.” Turning to my father she asked, “You said that she bought it from your father?”
“It is a long story,” I said.
“Why don’t you two come in and have something to eat so we can talk about it?”
I opened my mouth to decline and my father said “We’d love to. We will just go and get your chair.” I followed him back to the truck and we pulled the chair down. He took his hand and ran it lovingly across the back and arms. He looked at me with eyes full of tears and said, “It’s beautiful isn’t it.”
I didn’t know if he meant the chair, or the memories, or being able to bring a small piece of joy into someone’s life but I just smiled and said, “Yeah, I think it is.”