Thursday, January 28, 2010

One Winter's Hour Finds Summertime

When waiting for my first grandchild, I wanted a rocking chair for when the child came to visit. Even before I started looking, I could see in my mind the chair I wanted. It had to have arms and a soft, upholstered set and back.

Some mean, dull part of my thinking argued that grandparents don’t really need rocking chairs—especially now with the invention of the infant bucket ,carry-all seats, really great swings and bouncy chairs. True, I had none of these at my house, but I knew I had to get the right kind of rocking chair.

I started looking. Craig’s List, e-bay and the usual furniture stores offered nothing that approached the vision in my mind. It had to be roomy—the arms had to be just so. My family members asked me why? It seemed obvious to me so I declined to explain, but as I searched the shops, I remembered why.

I think it is my earliest memory. When I was young, my parents lived in the first floor apartment of my grandparents row house in Brooklyn, NY. My grandparents lived in the apartment upstairs. The flats were connected by a lovely wooden staircase; they shared a front door, foyer, basement, back porch and back yard.

My grandfather worked for the US Post Office and he worked on the mail trains. He loved trains and could imitate their sounds which as you can see, still impresses me. His work schedule meant that he was away for a few days and then home for a few. But when he was home, he was present during the daytime hours and he played with us.

my grandfather
But what I remember was not so much strictly playing. My grandfather was rocking my little sister to sleep and singing popular songs in his beautiful voice. She was a a baby, wrapped in a blanket cuddled on his shoulder. My sister is less than a year younger than me, so I must have been between fourteen and eighteen months old. My older sister would have been two and a half or three.My older sister and I did not want to be left out of anything to do with Grandpa, so we, too, climbed on the chair. He had us sit astride the arm posts and hold onto the arm of the chair. We pretended we were riding our horses while he sang.

That’s my memory: Grandpa rocking while Gloria and I rode our “horses” and he patted Stefanie’s back in rhythm to the songs he sang. How Much Is That Doggie In the Window, followed by Sweetest Little Fellow and then my favorite, Gershwin’s Summertime. (The link lets you hear Ella Fitzgerald sing it!)


And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high
Your daddy's rich
And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

The stanza that begins "One of these mornings" creates a picture of the child leaving. It seems an impossibility that this could be the future, when the child is so close and so dear, rocking in your arms. But separations come as they must and acknowledging that makes the moment of the song, the moment of treasuring togetherness so powerful and memorable.

Deep in my mind and heart I knew this was a worthy scene to recreate; I was beginning to understand the lyrics my grandfather sang. So the rocking chair had to be right. My dreaming led me to one of the “junk shops” I frequent where quality furniture is available for affordable prices. I saw this one and though the upholstery was stained and torn, I knew it would be perfect. Karl and I re-upholstered it.

This week when Jack came to see me, he was just a bit grumpy.  However, he rallied, played with his cars and dinosaurs and Clare’s teapot . When it was time for his rest, we followed our usual routine. Joey took a book to read on my bed while I sat with Jack in the rocking chair and read Jack his favorite book, Sam’s Cookie and sang a few songs. We do this every week.

not too happy

But this week, Jack felt tired, so he put his head on my shoulder and rested there while I rocked him and talked to him and patted his back making the hollow thumping noise he likes. Joey looked forlorn and let his book droop in listless hands. “Can I— can I fit, too?” he said.

Feeding the big dinosaur is serious business

“Sure!” I made room and Joey climbed on the chair. His legs are now too long to really use the arm for a horse, but he tried and finally settled on my lap. This amused Jack (thankfully because it might have gone the other way). And Jack said, “I hide behind you, Grannie.”

This was totally his funny, creative idea. He wiggled around and stood behind me in the rocking chair. This gave Joey more room and avoided a fight. Jack put his arms around my neck and pressed his cheek to mine. I could tell he was smiling. I glanced back to see his lovely, light-filled smile, his big blue eyes happy and amused. He said, “Sing Twinkle, Twinkle.”

So we did. I have no picture of the moment, but I hope you can imagine it. Joey giggling, singing with all his might as he’s curled on my lap. Jack peeking down at him, hugging me tightly, smiling as he sang, mispronouncing a few words as a two-year old does. We went on to sing Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer, and then an old praise song in ¾ time that my friend Teresa wrote, “My whole heart, I give to You, O Lord, my whole heart…”

Jack has a little bed in my guest room and he trotted to it still smiling and saying “laugh at you.”. Our routine includes a little game to make parting sweet but not so sorrowful. That means that when I’ve tucked him in, as Joey and I are backing out, I say to Jack, “Are you going to laugh?” He squeals, “Yes!” We back to the door, shut it and then peek around it at him. He laughs and laughs. I guess we keep this up—peeking and laughing—for a few minutes. and most of the time, Jack goes to his nap smiling.

I don’t have the voice to sing Summertime with the pathos that my grandfather did, but I’ll never forget him or the song. I know the lyrics have influenced my life but moreso, his open-armed way of spending time with me. And I’m grateful to Joey and Jack for making a new version of a treasured memory.

He liked it (mildly as you can see) because it plays music


  1. I'm so glad you received the embodiment of your vision.

  2. I love that you could do that! and I am not sure I want to click that link to hear anyone sing Summertime because in my mind it will always be sung by my father.

  3. Heartfelt and beautiful. Thank you for sharing these memories, both old and new.