Appalachia

Ruminations on an Old Rocking Chair

Jim Casada sent me this piece he wrote about his Grandpa Joe after my recent post about rocking chairs.

vintage picture of man with galluses and a hat

Grandpa Joe Casada 

RUMINATIONS ON AN OLD ROCKING CHAIR written by Jim Casada

Virtually all of my paternal grandfather’s storytelling, no matter what the season, occurred in one of two settings. The first was outdoors.  There we shared countless treasured hours together, and for me they were precious whether we were fishing; piddling around making slingshots or whammy diddles; or hard at work performing mundane tasks such as hoeing corn, slopping hogs, or feeding chickens.

The second focal point for Grandpa Joe’s telling of tales came when he was comfortably seated in a rocking chair. He actually had two of these storytelling thrones. One was a wicker-bottomed rocker on the front porch. Comfortably ensconced in it he could gaze out at the nearby Tuckaseigee River and listen to its soothing whispers while calling back old long ago. The second rocker was a more substantial piece of furniture situated in the living room, and on bitter winter days or when he was dog tired from hours of labor it was his place of rest and retreat.

Today the latter chair rests two steps from where these words are being typed. I seldom sit in it, although its solid oak frame and cushioned seat are inviting. Instead, I just gaze on it and evoke memories of the old man who used it as a perch. It’s a comfort and a companion; an inspiration in my work and a constant invitation to revisit yesteryear.

A conservative estimate would put its age somewhere beyond the century mark, and in its glory days what stories it heard. There were accounts of that monarch of the Appalachian forests, the American chestnut. Grandpa would talk about trees so tall a shotgun load had no effect on squirrels feeding in their uppermost reaches or relate how the tree was a veritable staff of life when he was in his prime. Chestnut trees furnished acid wood and mast for “cash money” in what was mostly a barter-based economy; were the source of material for shingles, fence rails, and rough lumber for barns and corn cribs; provided food directly in forms such as roasted nuts and chestnut dressing; and indirectly through fattening up hogs and attracting wild game.

Grandpa was tough as a well-seasoned hickory shaft, but when he talked about the days before a virulent blight devastated millions of acres of chestnut-dominated forest there would be a catch in his voice and moisture in his eyes. The old rocking chair moved in rhythm with his sad recollections, soothing and calming as he talked of a world he and countless others had lost.

The chair knew gladness as well as sadness, such as when he described the antics of a tow sack full of cottontails caught in a deep soft snow and released in a one-room shack or when he would chuckle about how some innocent mischief on our part had raised the ire of Grandma Minnie. There were moments of high adventure too, such as when Grandpa recalled the night he shot and killed a cougar in mid-air as it leaped from the roof of a chicken coop or the time when the family moved by wagon over treacherous mountain terrain  in the dead of winter.

Most of all though the chair offered a place of rest and comfort to an aging man of the mountains. In it, year after wonderful year, Grandpa showed me that dreaming is not the exclusive preserve of the young. You just had to be young at heart. That was one of his most enduring, endearing qualities.

Grandpa Joe never saw the ocean, but he fished in pristine mountain streams and drank sweet spring water so icy it set your teeth on edge. He never drove a car but he handled teams of horses and understood meaningful application of the words gee, haw, and whoa. If he ever left the state of North Carolina it was just to venture a few miles into north Georgia, but he lived a full life in mountains so lovely they make the soul soar. To my knowledge he never once ate in a restaurant, but he dined on sumptuous fare—pot likker, backbones and ribs, fried squirrel with sweet potatoes, country hams from hogs he had raised and butchered, cathead biscuits with sausage gravy, cracklin’ cornbread, and other fixin’s the likes of which no high-profile chef could best.

I can still hear him, as he returned thanks, offering a simple prayer which always ended: “You’uns see what’s before you; eat hearty.” He would then do ample justice to one of Grandma Minnie’s scrumptious suppers before pronouncing, “My, that was fine, weren’t it.” Those words were more expressive and conveyed greater appreciation than any polished literary comments a food critic could possibly provide.

Grandpa never drank a soda pop, but he sassered, sipped, and savored pepper tea he prepared from parched red pepper pods like a connoisseur of the finest wines. He never tasted seafood, but he dined on speckled trout battered with stone-ground corn meal fried so perfectly you could eat ‘em bones and all. He never ate papayas or pomegranates, but he grew cannonball watermelons so sweet they’d leave you sticky all over and raised muskmelons so juicy that when one was sliced you drooled despite yourself. He never had crepes suzette, but he enjoyed buckwheat pancakes made with flour milled from grain he had grown, adorned with butter his wife churned, and covered with molasses made from cane he raised. He never ate eggs Benedict, but he dined daily on “cackleberries” from free-range chickens with yolks yellow as the summer sun.

Grandpa was marginally literate, having completed six grades in a country school where sessions were only held for a few months each year, but he faithfully read the Bible every day. He seldom went to church, at least in the years I knew him, but he was an intensely religious man.

 In short, Grandpa Joe was not, in the grander scheme of things, an individual who garnered fame or fortune, accolades or grand achievements. His life was one of limitations in many ways—geographically, technologically, economically, in breadth of vision, and at least in the eyes of some, accomplishments. To my way of thinking though, he epitomized love; the magic of mentoring; liberal dispensation of that most precious of gifts, time; and sharing of down-to-earth lore redolent of the wisdom inherent in singer/songwriter John Prine’s suggestion that “it don’t make much sense that common sense don’t make no sense no more.”

He was, in my small world, the most unforgettable character I’ve ever known or likely will ever know, and the chair that is now my daily sidekick saw and heard so much of his life formed the centerpiece of those cherished memories. For more than four decades now the chair has primarily known the sounds of silence, but a mere glance at it calls back wonders of yesteryear in a way that lifts my spirits and stirs my innermost being. I reckon, all things except monetary worth being duly considered, that the old rocking chair is the finest thing I own.

—-

I hope you enjoyed Jim’s special rocking chair memories as much as I did.

Tipper

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18 Comments

  • Reply
    Mary Lou McKillip
    August 16, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    Tipper Jim story about his Grandfather rocker was so beautifully written so like a poem in some of his description .thoughts ran threw my mind if I ever get back home to NC I dare say I would just be so content never to venture far from my home in the mountains.tell Jim he really made me yearn for my home in the mountains Life so full of simple things and ways why did I ever agree to leave it . Such a wonderful story Jim

  • Reply
    SusieQ
    August 14, 2019 at 11:53 pm

    Truly enjoyed … a very fine….. sweet telling, such a descriptive sharing, I felt as if I was right there.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 13, 2019 at 8:31 pm

    Ever seen a creeping rocking chair? or walking rocker? When you rock it, it will move sideways. After a few minutes of rocking you would have to pick it up and move it back to where it started. If you’re rocking on the porch you have to be careful when you get near the edge. You wouldn’t want to go over and damage the chair would you?
    A creeping rocker can be fixed fairly easily but what’s the fun in that.

  • Reply
    Richard Moore
    August 13, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    What a wonderful story from Jim Casada! I’ve enjoyed many stories and books from Jim and certainly look forward to the one coming out next year. A lot of southern folklore and literature were born of times spent rocking and telling stories and memories on a porch. My grandfather Moore was from Clay County, NC but he and his rockers ended their days in Georgia where one of his sons had a dairy.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    August 13, 2019 at 12:05 pm

    What a beautiful story! I’m hungry just reading the descriptions of the food. Nothing can hold a candle to old-fashioned home cooking. I’ve got my Mama’s gooseneck platform rocker and it’s a real comfort to sit in it and rock.

  • Reply
    Dee
    August 13, 2019 at 10:33 am

    Jim, your rumination memories stir up our memories of loved ones in our families that were self sufficient. I remember my father telling me about the old Chestnut Trees and how the wood was used. It was a delight to see the word “Muskmelon” as that is what we always called them and they are so sweet and juicy! Thanks for the wonderful story.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    August 13, 2019 at 9:51 am

    A beautiful story! brought back so many memories. I always loved to hear the old folks talk.

  • Reply
    Jeanette Queen
    August 13, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Thank you, Jim – for sharing Grandpa Joe with us all ! I know he was a treasure !
    Reminds me so very much of my Grandpa Prince and also my Daddy. They worked hard, tilled the ground,
    provided for us all, never complained, and was always grateful for the blessings of life.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 13, 2019 at 9:14 am

    Shirl–Thanks to you and others for the gracious comments. As I hope comes through, I absolutely adored Grandpa Joe.
    Interestingly enough, I have a book in press right now in which Grandpa is a central figure in chapter after chapter along with one being devoted exclusively to him. It has the working title of “A Smokies Boyhood and Beyond: Mountain Musings and Memories.” If all goes well it will be published by the University of Tennessee Press in the latter half of next year, and I’ll be sure to let Tipper know when that happens (and send her a copy, since one chapter in the book is devoted to her!).
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    August 13, 2019 at 9:10 am

    I love how Jim describes his Grandpa as “the most unforgettable character I’ve ever known.” To be truly blessed in life is to grow up with a Grandpa that creates such wonderful memories. I did just exactly that! When my instructor in English 101 asked us to write a paper on the most interesting person living or dead, I only pondered for a short time. I did not write about George Washington nor my parents. Instead I chose the tall lanky man who always seemed to be lots of fun and took time to teach life lessons. He pulled this off while working as a logger twelve hours each day. I wrote of how my Grandpa made life fun, and his influence had carried over into a family who sometimes laughs too much. I continued with his avoidance of weighty subjects such as politics or religion.
    Thank you so much, Jim, for writing such a moving post about the really important people who actually shape our lives. Somehow they go unnoticed by a society nowadays in favor of those who specialize in outlandish behavior.

    • Reply
      PinnacleCreek
      August 13, 2019 at 9:13 am

      My Grandpa used a porch swing instead of a rocker.

  • Reply
    Sherry
    August 13, 2019 at 9:01 am

    I lo v e this post today. Thanks Tipper & Jim. I am blessed to have my great grandmother’s rocker, passed to my grandmother (she was only 4 ft.9) to my daddy, then to me. I am short so it is a somewhat comfortable fit. My great grandpa made it for her, carved from Oak and has the original rope bottom and back. They say she would sit on the porch and could do impressions of everyone she knew in town & kept everyone entertained. I am quite certain that my grandmother rocked me & All my cousins many a mile in that chair as tales were told and songs were sung.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    August 13, 2019 at 8:50 am

    Jim, I think you should write a book about Grandpa. I would buy it!

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 13, 2019 at 8:49 am

    What a wonderful story. I am sure everyone can remember sitting at the foot of a rocking chair and listening to an older person in the family tell the old stories. I wish I could have had a recording of all the stories I heard but unfortunately we did not have such a thing back in the day.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 13, 2019 at 8:32 am

    Underneath and around and running through Jim’s memories is the secret of life well-lived. We all have a sense of what that secret is. But it is hard to put into words and most especially into few words. It is a compound of so many things. The wisest and best among us don’t put it into words at all. They simply live it as a visible example. Which reminds me of something Charles Spurgeon (if memory serves) is reported as having said, “Preach the gospel. If necessary use words.”

  • Reply
    Cheryl
    August 13, 2019 at 8:17 am

    That was a beautiful tribute. I truly believe one day we are all going to wish we had grandpa Joe’s knowledge.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 13, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Thank you Jim, as always you are a master with words. My grandparents lived a life much like yours and while it seemed like a hard life it was it was very satisfying. Self sufficiency is an unknown quantity now days but it was the norm in our grandparents time. It was a hard life but very satisfying in a way our grand-kids will never know.
    Thanks for the memories!

    • Reply
      Sallie (The Apple Doll Lady)
      August 13, 2019 at 10:27 am

      Wow! Wouldn’t he be proud of you for sharing your wonderful gift of words! Reading this is like studying a great artist’s painting but easier for me to interpret. Remind’s me of my father and the recent comment of a distant cousin who said her father, an MD, admired my father for all the ingenuity he had despite little formal education. Nieces and nephews remember their granddad reading Uncle Remus from his inside rocking chair and I remember his telling stories or just sitting in the front porch rocker on a dark summer night just thinking and resting. I enjoy my rockers, especially the front porch rocking chairs but the best experience is when I feel that grand baby relax and fall asleep on my shoulder to the rhythm of one of my rockers. Then it’s fun to watch as they grow and learn to rock themselves in a toddler-size rocker, sometimes one that has been passed through many generations. For some reason they can’t sit very long at one time but will claim that as their rocking chair. Thanks again for you and Tipper sharing your talents with words that spark memories.

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