Two old rocking chairs sit motionless on my front porch. They are like two brave sentinels guarding my front door, but when folks come to visit me, they don’t even notice them sitting there. Those two old rockers don’t even exist as far as they are concerned, but they would likely think them out of place if they ever paused to notice them sitting there.
However, those two sentinels aren’t just old rocking chairs to me. You see, there was a time when those rockers were full of life, but that was many years ago when they guarded a different door. Cheerful voices and laughter filled the air around them as they rocked for hours back in those days.
Beneath the countless layers of paint applied to those two old rocking chairs through the years, you will find the golden beauty of a life once lived. The loving hands of a kind-gentle man made those rockers long before I was born, and if they could speak, they’d tell you stories that would make you smile, laugh, sigh, and maybe even shed a tear or two.
I have many fond memories of those rocking chairs, which is why I have them sitting there. It saddens me that no one notices or rocks in them anymore. I guess folks are just too busy these days and don’t have time to enjoy the simple things in life—like rocking and sharing special moments together. It seems folks are too busy running hither and yon or playing with electronic gadgets to consider enjoying such simple pleasures in life anymore.
The only time I ever see those two rocking chairs move these days is when the force of a gentle breeze kisses them softly as one would a newborn child. It is then those two old rockers seem to come alive again. I can even hear the sounds of soft voices and laughter floating on the invisible currents of air carrying the sweet aroma of gardenias I breathed long, long ago. It is during such precious moments that the floodgates of my mind open wide, releasing a river of memories as I envision the two of them sitting there.
You see, those two old rocking chairs mean the world to me. They belonged to my grandparents, Nene and Pop. When I close my eyes, I imagine Nene knitting as she slowly rocks back and forth while Pop puffs away on a corncob pipe he created with his rough, swollen hands. I don’t think Pop ever lit that old pipe though because I never saw any telltale smoke rising into the air, and the only scent I ever breathed came from Nene’s gardenias growing near their front porch. Maybe chewing on that old pipe was just Pop’s way of relaxing and remembering the glory days of his past—just as I am doing now.
I recall the many occasions when I snuggled quietly on Pop’s lap as we rocked for hours when I was a young boy. Sometimes we rocked well into the dark of night and counted the lightning bugs that came our way. Pop told me those flashing lights were angels saying hello to us. I believed him back then—I believe him even more so now.
However, most of our time together in that old rocking chair had Pop telling me stories about his childhood. I never knew if his stories were true, but it really didn’t matter to me. I just enjoyed hearing them and seeing the warm glow of a kind heart beaming from his eyes as he told each story. Every now and then, he would look down at me and flash a whimsical wink. That’s when I knew Pop had just shared a small piece of his soul with me, and only me. It made me feel warm inside and I always begged him to tell me more.
I will never forget the special moments that we shared—those precious moments in life when you feel so loved by someone that you want to shout out to the world to let everyone know how wonderful you feel.
We planned to celebrate my sixth birthday at Nene and Pop’s house that year. Nene was baking me a giant cake with her tender-loving hands, and I couldn’t wait to have my first sweet bite of heaven.
We were about to leave our house for my special celebration when the phone rang loudly that day. Mama answered and shouted, “Oh, no!” and started crying. She dropped the phone onto the floor and collapsed to her knees. I sensed something was wrong, but didn’t know what it could possibly be.
Daddy rushed to Mama’s side and helped her to her feet, but all she could say was, “Nene… Nene… Nene just…” Daddy held Mama in his arms, but she wouldn’t stop crying. Then Mama wrapped her arms around me and hugged me very tight. She didn’t say a word, but continued to cry—it made me sad to see her that way.
“Mama, you don’t have to cry because I love you this much,” as I spread my hands as far apart as I could. “See! Look Mama! See how much I love you!”
Mama finally paused for just a brief moment and squeezed me even tighter. Then she whispered softly in my ear, “We’re going to Pop’s house now, but we’ll have to wait to celebrate your sixth birthday another day. I’m so sorry, Taylor. Is that okay with you?”
I was disappointed, but I could sense I didn’t have a choice. I sadly replied, “Yes, ma’am—it’s okay. You don’t have to cry anymore. I’m your big boy now. I’ll take good care of you,” as I gently placed my hands on her tear-soaked cheeks.
“Yes, you are my big boy, and I knew you would understand,” as she continued wiping her tears. “Now, when we get to the farm, I want you to go to the barn and check on Pop’s chickens. You can feed them too, if you like. Will you do that for Pop and me?”
“Yes, ma’am— I will.” Again, I was confused, but I knew there were no other options for me. It was something I had to do.
When we arrived at the farm, I saw two police cars and an ambulance parked in front of Pop’s house with their lights flashing brightly. I remember thinking that it wasn’t a good sign to see them there and felt something must be terribly wrong. Mama told me to go to the barn and stay there until she came to get me. It was to be for just a little while.
I fed the chickens as Mama asked me to do, and then waited for what seemed to be a very long time. Then I saw Mama walking toward the barn, still wiping tears with each step she took. She knelt beside me, placed her hands on my shoulders, and said, “Taylor, I have something I must tell you and I want you to be my big boy when I do.”
Having no idea of the gravity of the moment, I replied, “Is it time for my birthday party? I’m ready to blow out the candles and eat the yummy cake Nene baked for me!”
After I said that, Mama started crying again, but her tears began flowing much more than before. It was the first time I had ever seen my mama cry so much. Her tears were falling like raindrops from the sky above. I thought I had done something wrong, but she wasn’t scolding me. Instead, she put her arms around me and pulled me firmly against her chest. She held me so tight I could feel her heart beating very fast.
She looked at me through red-swollen eyes and whispered softly, “Taylor, Nene—Nene went away today. She went to live with Jesus up in heaven.”
With the innocence of a child I replied, “When will she be coming back home, Mama? I don’t want Nene to miss my birthday party. She made a special cake for me!”
“Taylor, you know Nene loves you very much, but she won’t be coming back. She’s an angel and lives in heaven now, but I know she will still be watching you when we celebrate your special birthday.”
“But Nene didn’t tell me goodbye or sing happy birthday to me! She always tells me goodbye before she leaves. Mama, I want to go in the house to see Nene now! It’s my very special day! I’m six years old today! I’m your big boy now!”
Mama started crying even harder after I said that. She must have known I didn’t understand what she had told me. I pushed myself away from her grasp and started running toward Nene’s house. I heard Mama shouting my name, but I kept running as fast as my little legs could go. I was going to hear Nene sing happy birthday to me, but before I could get to the house, Daddy came down the steps and blocked my path.
I had never seen Daddy cry before, but I could see he was very upset that day. He had always told me big boys don’t cry. I was very confused by the tracks of tears I saw streaming down his cheeks because my daddy was, indeed, a very big boy. Big boys aren’t supposed to cry—Daddy told me so.
“Easy, Taylor! Now is not a good time for you to go inside Pop’s house. It will be better if you stay outside with your mama and me. Let’s go sit in the rocking chairs on the front porch for a few minutes.”
We walked in silence to the front porch and as I crawled up in Dad’s lap, I started crying as I said, “I want to see Nene! Daddy, please let me go see Nene!”
I fought hard to free myself, but Daddy was much too strong—I couldn’t break free.
“Did Mama tell you about Nene?” he asked.
“Yes, sir, but I want to go inside to see her. I want her to sing happy birthday to me because it’s my sixth birthday today. Mama said that it was my special day and if I made a wish, it would come true. My wish is to see Nene now. That’s all I wish for on my special day.”
Daddy picked me up and started walking toward the barn. When we got to Mama, she and Daddy hugged with me in the middle. We all stood there crying, but I didn’t really understand why until Daddy explained it to me again. That was the day I learned how it feels to lose someone you love very much. Yes, Nene went to heaven, but Mama told me that if I kept her in my heart, she would always be with me.
Well, I never did have that six-year-old birthday party. I guess Mama and Daddy were too busy with Nene’s funeral and taking care of Pop to celebrate it with me. They probably forgot about it, but I was okay with it because, party or no party, I was still a big boy—I was now six years old!
I remember going to Pop’s house every day over the next two weeks to make sure he was okay. I would sit on his lap in that old rocking chair, but he no longer told me stories after Nene went away. We just sat still with Pop staring off into the distance. It was as though he wasn’t there with me anymore. When I tried to talk to him, he just glanced down at me for a brief moment, but the warm glow he used to have in his eyes was no longer present. His eyes seemed so empty, as if his reasons for living were no longer there. However, each time a lightening bug flashed its light at us, I saw Pop smile. Then he would say, “Hello, Nene! I miss you so much! I’m looking forward to being by your side again—the way it used to be.”
Early into the third week after Nene went to heaven, Mama came to me crying once again. Based on my recent experience with Nene going to be with Jesus, I knew something was surely wrong. However, nothing could have prepared me for what she said to me that day.
“Taylor, I have some sad news to share with you, and I hope you will understand. Pop went to heaven to be with Nene today. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I understood very well what she meant this time. We hugged and wiped away many more tears that day. I knew the weeks to follow were going to be very tough. I always thought I was the big boy Dad told me to be, but I cried a lot during those long weeks. Two people who I loved dearly were now up in heaven with Jesus, but I knew they were still watching over me because I was carrying them in my heart, as Mama told me I could do.
Mama and Daddy took care of selling the farm and most of Nene and Pop’s possessions because we didn’t have room to store them in our little house. The only things I asked to keep were the two old rocking chairs sitting on Nene and Pop’s front porch. Mama and Daddy finally agreed to let me have both of them, and I am very grateful they did.
When I got married many years later, the first things I moved to our new house were those two old rocking chairs. My wife thought they were hideous and wanted me to get rid of them. She said they were nothing but old pieces of wood—junk not worthy of having at our new house.
It was our first big argument, but I stood my ground. I refused to give in and placed those two old rockers on our front porch that day. She eventually accepted the fact I was keeping them, but she wanted to place them on the back porch because she didn’t want her friends to see them sitting there.
Eventually, I told her the story behind those two old rocking chairs, and they have been sitting on the front porch of every house we have lived in. Those two sentinels will always be guarding my front door, even though my wife will never fully understand how much they mean to me.
Sixty years have now slipped past since Nene and Pop went to be with Jesus, but each time I look at those two old rocking chairs, I imagine them still sitting there. Nene is knitting away and Pop is chewing on his handmade-corncob pipe.
On my birthday each year, I sit in Pop’s old rocking chair and pretend I’m celebrating my sixth birthday with him and Nene. I feel his presence and look into his eyes. What I see is that warm glow of his kind heart looking down at me once more.
Yes, Pop and Nene are still rocking together; the way it was meant to be. Now, when I see lightening bugs flashing their lights at me, I know it is Nene and Pop stopping by to say hello—Pop told me that long ago, and I know it to be true.
When I listen very carefully, I can even hear both of them singing happy sixth birthday to me. That thought warms my heart and always makes me smile. Yes, I just sit there for a few moments rocking with Nene and Pop—the way it used to be.
Just two old rocking chairs sitting motionless there, and yet, they are very full of life to me. Those two old rocking chairs hold fond memories of two people who will always have a special place in my heart. My Nene and Pop will always be rocking side-by-side on my front porch.
So, the next time you happen upon two old rocking chairs just sitting there, pause for just a moment and look beyond what your eyes can see. You may find your personal version of “Nene and Pop” sitting there, just the way it was meant to be. If not, think of all the stories those two old rocking chairs could tell you, if only they could speak.
May God bless you with many fond memories of those who now shine their lights upon you when they come to say hello—Pop told me that long ago, so I know it to be true.
Tom Tatum – Author – 2019
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