I would like to continue with ‘who am I/where I am from’ and tie it to the history of people with generations of storytelling and when those people are gone, perhaps you received something that belonged to them as to where they were from and something they loved. One of my passions is the restoration of pieces that did belong to my family or a ‘find’ belonging to someone I have never met. Even if not known to me, in their lifetime they had likes and dislikes, a style, a desire. Sometimes their story simply lies in a piece of furniture, lamp, or carved pretty box without a word.
Many of the pieces in my home have stories, those untold and those I have attached to them. ‘Where I am from and who am I’ can be seen in many of these scattered about in particular spots throughout. The story I’ve chosen to share is about this delightful chair I stumbled across in the mid 1990s.
Inside the threshold of my front door in Tucson sits an antique wicker rocker. Its body is solid as a stout farm woman—boxy bottom, firm legs, back slightly curved for a hug, (please, no one take offense, I am trying to use a metaphor here). I found this gem in Illinois at the annual Prairieland Steam Show held in a community of Jacksonville. This annual event draws crowds from counties all over the state. It takes months of planning and spreads across several acres of neatly mown grass. A partial acre is left untouched for one of the local farmers to showcase his Clydesdale and/or Belgian horses hooked up to harnesses to plow the field for planting as in the days before tractors. A shady corner is set aside for all sorts of miniature steam engines that tweet and puff and larger ones are on display in one of the side buildings. A huge barn sits center where the quilters are set up in former horse stalls along with other wares and homemade goods of jellies, canned vegetables, handmade rag rugs, carved toys, and much more from the local craft people. A nearby kitchen serves fresh ham and beans, cornbread, and a choice of apple, peach or cherry pies at noon.
On that visit in September, my parents, son, husband, brother, and his family traipse by table after table and small vendor tents of every new and old item to be found within 1,000 miles and 150 years. The weather that year was perfect, no rain, no mud, and the sun broke through the autumn sky like a Rockwell painting.
We entered the Steam Show through the threshing building where sorghum cane was being boiled and pressed to syrup and out unto the grounds when I spotted a flatbed wagon with ‘stuff’. Big ‘stuff’. As in, trunks, furniture pieces, cellar ‘finds’ or barn ‘finds’. I noted a worn-out black wicker rocker and took a closer look. The fabric was rain stained, thin, worn threadbare, but the piece itself was in perfect condition. No cracks, no breaks, and the tightly threaded wicker ropes were intact. I walked on through the waves and willows of tables, and my mind kept drifting back to the wagon with that wicker rocker. By the time we had walked miles in a circle, bought sorghum, eaten ham and beans, and stuffed a bag of warm kettle corn in my bag, I was ready to go back to that wagon to buy myself a chair. My mind was made up.
A small travel trailer sat parked alongside the flatbed, a wicky–up tied to it for shade, and many more boxes and crates scattered around with ‘stuff’ on and in all of them. I stood at the wicker rocker and found a tag with faded ink that read $75. Giving it another look over, I then ask the first person I saw if this was his ‘stuff’.
“Naw, it’s his.” The man pointed to the little travel trailer and a tall lean man stepped out wearing a beard, straw hat, and bib overalls with no shirt underneath. I walked over to him and said, “Is that your stuff?” and pointed to the flatbed wagon.
“Is that your rocker?”
I fingered the $50 dollar bill in my jean pocket and looked him in the eye.
“You take a $50 dollar bill for that rocker?” And held the bill in front of him.
“Uh-uh. Today is a good sale on that chair.” I handed him the fifty and motioned to my husband to help me get the chair off the wagon. He rolled his eyes up until they disappeared in his hairline and came over to help.
“How are we going to get this back home?”
“In our truck of course. Why do you think we come back to Illinois in a truck?”
Now it was my turn to roll my eyes upward. Sheesh.
That long ago day, the old lonesome rocker waved me down as I went by, knowing it would have a new home and gladly welcome anyone to sit and tell me where they are from.