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