One year just as tree buds announced spring, our young family moved into an old brick farmhouse situated picturesquely atop a gently sloping hill. The back porch swing, located near the kitchen door, became a “way station” for boxes entering the house – boxes of cloth diapers, children’s books and toys, canning jars, tools, fishing gear, pots and pans - boxes representing hope for a new lifestyle full of promise.
The magnetic view from the creaky, squeaky swing - a long strip of untouched pasture highlighted by a meandering creek - beckoned small feet and weary spirits to escape limitations, either tangible or self-imposed. As days, weeks, and years passed, the swing called the family to a lifestyle hallmarked by freedom.
On a particular afternoon its chains squealed in celebration when all five of us packed ourselves into its seat and I announced we would soon have a new baby. The kids accepted the news matter-of-factly before running off to pursue minnows in the creek.
When the exterior brick walls soaked up summer sun and the stuffy interior seemed to corner me like an oven, I escaped to the porch swing and its song. Usually our farm dog, hiding in his own reclusive spot under an overgrown bush, crept out of his shady hiding spot to join me. His cool, wet nose offered comfort to my heart as well as my hand.
The swing also became a perch for thieving clowns - grackles and starlings that eyed dog food morsels in the always-full bowl on the back porch. After brazenly stealing nuggets, they flew off to lunch in the branches of a scraggly juniper tree transplanted from the pasture by a visionary lad.
On very windy days, or during fierce storms, the swing crashed repeatedly into the post on the far end of the porch to carve out a splintered and ever-deepening, concave scar. Miraculously, there was never any damage to the swing. It seemed impervious – an unchanging icon in the midst of the seasons as our family grew and matured.
But now all that is behind me.
Today I recline on the porch swing, head to hips, with my legs resting against, and gently pushing, the chain. The swing sways rhythmically from side to side, almost like a cradle, while creaking and squeaking as usual. I study fluttering cottonwood leaves silhouetted against a dramatic backdrop of clear blue sky and entertain memories of a barefooted little boy who followed his Dad behind the lawnmower in their shade.
There, those three bricks – they are the ones a daughter decorated with crayon stick-people drawings the year she started kindergarten, twenty-five years long years ago. Her little green and blue people look as freshly drawn as they did on the day of their creative, expectant invention – as if they promise to outlive the inevitable changes in their own lifetimes and beyond.
Suddenly the cottonwood leaves blur as a knot fills my throat. I stop pushing the chain, and the swing and its song both obey. I lie still and quiet in this private, sun-dappled spot, emotionally and physically paralyzed, summarizing the weight of recent loss.
The kids have grown up and left, and that new baby - a girl, now married - recently was the last to purge the house of her leftover childhood memorabilia. A “for sale” sign decorates our yard. Soon we will move away, and the old porch swing will usher boxes out of the house – including a library of books dealing with the chronic diseases that continue to tutor us in the redemptive value of suffering. We’ll move someplace smaller and simpler, and take what has grown up within us during the three decades we lived in the old farmhouse: faith, and hope, and love. We’ll also take the knowledge that debilitating illnesses will affect many of our future decisions.
Our elderly dog wandered off to a secret spot to die last week; he will never again come out from under the bush to greet me. Summer is waning and soon autumn – the season of dormancy – will descend. As I lay quietly, staring at the yellow butterflies in the pasture, floods of tears baptize the swing.
I wearily push myself up, plant my bare feet on the concrete porch floor, and walk away from the rocking wooden seat and stick figures on the bricks. It is time to leave the old porch swing with its sweet green smells and healing rhythms.
Goodbye old creaky-squeaky, creaky-squeaky, creaky-squeaky.
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