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Rockabye Baby

a small child sitting on a plate

In the oldest picture we have of the house, the porch was open but somewhere along the way the Vermont winters must have been excessive and someone added rattly windows. It was along the front of the house, the first thing you’d see as the car chugged up the dirt road and around the bend. There was a door from the living room to the porch which, unless it was bitterly cold during the winter months, stayed open. My sister and I could safely play there on the slanted floors, hauling our stuffed animals and baby dolls out to play. We had a little toy piano we could clank away on without disturbing the adults too much.

I believe it was afternoon. The shadows were growing low and streaky. I wore a sweater that felt scratchy. It was a popcorn sweater which made me laugh when I heard the name. It wasn’t popcorn; you couldn’t eat a sweater. It was the height of toddler humor.

I lugged my doll along. She was an old doll, plastic, once my mother’s doll. We had a metal child’s rocking chair on the porch. It had painted flowers on the goldenrod yellow seat and a wide base. Kind of ugly, probably a relic from the 1960’s. It must have been for real children once upon a time, but we used it for our toys. My doll and I had an appointment with the painted wooden piano that was missing a few keys. We played along when something caught my eye. The rocking chair, a few feet away and aimed down the slantiest part of the porch, rocked back, up the slope of the porch. Back and forth, back and forth. I paused my play, my toddler mind turning this over, knowing it wasn’t supposed to do that. I was alone, no one was playing. The rocker, as if realizing its transgression, abruptly stopped, stock still in an instant. I grabbed my doll’s arm and tugged her along behind me, back to the safety of the the living room and the grown ups.
This year, my mom and I were recalling the house, that magical, strange place that has stayed with us in ways we didn’t expect.
“The first day, when we were just visiting the house with the realtor, your father and I entered through the front porch. That was the first thing, the first time I realized something was odd…There was an old rocker, a child’s rocking chair that had been left behind. There were a lot of random things they left…Anyway, we were standing there talking, when this little chair just started rocking on it’s own. No one was near by, no one was standing there. It just moved back and forth a few times, then stopped…like it was saying hello to us.”

That was Mother’s Day of this year. Almost 40 years have gone by. For all the house meant to us, we don’t talk about it’s memories very often. The ghosts of the people we love who were part of our cast of characters and aren’t here anymore make the words choke a little, so sometimes it is easier to stay at arms length. There are stories I don’t know, and my stories she doesn’t know. But here we are, nearly 40 years later, and the house is still saying hello.

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