“Dead lady rockin!” The woman’s voice echoed down the familiar but strangely empty hallway of the old Pennsylvania farm house. Two men nodded as they carried the well-sat wicker maple rocking chair towards a waiting pickup truck. “Careful on the steps, Gary,” she added, “that’s Grandma’s rocker.” But she needn’t have reminded them.
The auction at the old farm hadn’t brought in nearly what they’d originally hoped. There was interest in some things: old tools and house furnishings - the local Amish bought up most of it - but Grandma just lived too far out of town, and there hadn’t been good notice.
The bidding became spirited on a number of items, a crystal chandelier went for many thousand, the price bolstered when some of the city people started bidding amoungst themselves. But when the auctioneer’s hand fell upon the simple rocking chair in the corner, a rustle filled the room, and then, for a moment, a stillness.
To the outsiders who’d come in from Lancaster, or Harrisburg, or Philadelphia, it was just another household item - a simple Pennsylvania Dutch rocking chair. Certainly local. Of value. It was well-built, practical, elegant in its simplicity. The maple, cut from this very property many years ago, had a deep wooden hue, as if rubbed three coats with thin maple syrup of the very finest grade, still warm from the shed. The wood grain of the palm rest was worn smooth, the color lightened, the glossy varnish slowly removed and gently replaced by the patina of many years of loving, weakening hands.
Those in the family knew differently. Each of many had special memories of curling into the bony lap of the old women in that chair. That very chair. They all knew that the front, left rocker had a “squeeeg” sound when the chair rocked forward and the left, rear rocker went “ka-trich-it” each time the chair rocked back.
“…squeeeg… ka-trich-it… squeeeg… ka-trich-it…”
They remembered earlier days when Grandma would jump from the chair and do an ‘old lady jig’ when she was happy. They also remembered how she fell out of that chair last Thanksgiving, while Mom was asking who wanted pie, and how they had all wondered in private if she’d ever really get back in. She never really did. On a short, gray, day in late February, while the rest of the family had gone off to church, she passed away, in the chair, in a patch of sun by the window. Rocking.
The woman’s bidding was, in the end, the most spirited. The auctioneer slapped “sold!” and pointed at her with a smile and a wink. Her cousins and nephews, her sister and her mother, applauded wildly. The out of towners from Lancaster, or Harrisburg, or Philadelphia, beamed, having just been witness to something special – the orderly transfer of history, generation by generation, bit by bit, piece by piece. And wasn’t that really what they’d come out here for in the first place?
The woman sighed heavily as she recalled the frail old woman, sitting by the window, hands quivering, eyes distant. She was a dead woman, rocking.
The men placed the chair in the back of the pickup, setting it upon on an old rug, bound lightly on each side to keep the chair from sliding away but allowing it to rock to the motions of the truck bed as it drove down the street.
House doors were closed and locked - doors that had never been locked in all the years that Grandma lived here. The woman wondered how they’d ever found the keys.
Family members stood in clusters, sharing reminiscences and saying their good-byes. Final transactions were made, hands were shaken and auctioneers packed and left slowly down the old drive, past the row of giant willows that Grandpa planted before he died, back before anyone could really remember. Finally, the cars of family and friends, one by one, pulled slowly down the drive and out onto the highway towards town.
It was the last time.
She would put the chair in the sitting room, she figured, next to her father’s old writing desk and beneath the picture of Aunt Rose. She briefly considered refinishing it but decided against that as soon as she glanced at the worn armrests. If you looked carefully, if you knew Grandma, you could see the outline of her thin body pressed forever into that chair. It was a dead lady rockin’. Forever. Grandma would be there forever, whenever the woman wanted to sit down and visit.
The woman pulled her truck out onto the old highway, and made the familiar turn back toward town. She had done it, what, thousands of times before – going to church, going to the store, going back home. But this was the last time.
“…squeeeg… ka-trich-it… squeeeg… ka-trich-it…”
It was the very last time.