Josna Rege

334. Rockers

In 2010s, Music, places, reflections, Stories, travel, United States, Words & phrases on June 11, 2015 at 9:59 am

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It’s funny that a rocker is either a live wire or an emblem of leisure. I’ve just returned from a heavenly few days at a school reunion in the hills of North Carolina, where we stayed in a big lodge surrounded by rhododendrons, songbirds, and the sound of running water, where we sang, hiked, cooked, ate, drank copious cups of tea, and talked incessantly. The lodge itself was rustic and a little run-down, which was a large part of its charm, because it reminded us of our old school buildings in the foothills of the Himalayas. For me its best feature was its long, high-ceilinged front porch with ceiling fans, a swing, and a row of white wooden rocking chairs. I often took a few minutes away from the lively, boisterous group to stand on the porch looking out at the rain and the green lushness, my heart full.

Rockers were ubiquitous in North Carolina, a fixture on every front porch no matter how humble, and even lining the walkways of the Charlotte Airport. They signaled a slower, more laid-back Southern way of life, in which people still had the time to sit on the porch in the evenings, shooting the breeze or just watching the world go by.

Now I come to think of it, though, I didn’t see many people actually sitting on those rockers. Driving through the achingly beautiful Blue Ridge Mountain region (here’s Doc Watson singing Blue Ridge Mountain Blues), most of the front porches were deserted, the rocking chairs a charming feature but empty nonetheless. At the airport there were people on them, but perched, as it were, ready to take off at the crackle of their boarding call. The young man, a Charlotte native, who brought the wheelchair for my dear friend Marianne, was bemused by the foreigners’ fascination with those humble, everyday objects. For my part I got the distinct impression that it was the idea of the rocking chairs, the leisurely life they stood for, that fascinated people. Even at our reunion, where we did alight on them from time to time, we were mostly busy with more active pursuits, such as hiking the wilderness trails to stunning scenic lookouts, or cooking and clearing the endless succession of snacks and meals we consumed with gusto.

In Mexican Home, one of my favorite John Prine songs,

I sat on the porch
Without my shoes
And watched the cars go by
And the headlights race to the corner of the kitchen wall.

When I’m feeling overwhelmed by the world I sit alone on my own front porch of an evening, doing a whole lot of nothing. Sometimes I wake with a start and realize that I’ve nodded off. But even retired people nowadays are made to feel that rocking on one’s front porch, once the very symbol of retirement, is tantamount to being put out to pasture. We’re told that sitting is hazardous to the health and that activity, constant activity, is the watchword. The retirees I know are busier than I am, and their active engagement with life keeps them young and vital. Mostly, I think that’s a very good thing. But still, I think of those empty North Carolina rockers with a pang.

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