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Old Wooden Rocker--anyone want to CRITIQUE??

by Leah Laiben

I have a wooden rocker.
The second time it was gifted to me, I was not as grateful as the first time I had received the chair. It was ugly. It was used. It was dirty. It was broken. I thought it had been abandoned, but now just before the birth of my first child, here it was. It had been gone but not forgotten; stored away only to be returned to me at just the right moment. It was here, and it was staring at me in all its splintered glory.
The first time I had been given the chair, I was just five years old and it was Christmas. I loved that chair, it was just my size. Unfortunately, over the years the miniature rocking chair had become less and less appealing. It became rough and faded with time. It was scratched and worn and showed the signs of being taken advantage of over the years. The chair had become unsightly. The chair had been neglected.
I averted my eyes as an uneasy feeling rose in my gut. Where was my brand new crocheted baby blanket? Where was the butterfly valance--to match the butterfly bumper pad--to match the butterfly crib sheets? Where were the diapers, the onesies, the booties? Did anyone even bother to check the gift registry? I had wanted something clean, and fresh, and new. Instead, I received something weak, and stained, and damaged. A tear trickled from my tired green eye, causing all the women to fawn over the ‘perfect’ gift my mother had given me: a childhood memento to pass on to my baby girl. Thanks Mom.
I brought the jagged thing home to my husband so that we could commiserate about the terrible gift. He took one look at that useless hunk of wood, and to my surprise, he saw beauty. He gently persuaded my pregnant hormones and me to begin the daunting challenge of restoring this chair, so together, that is was we did.
Little by little and day by day we sanded every square inch of that small wooden rocking chair. We had to use a fine grained paper for sanding—a coarse grain would have further damaged the weathered surface.
Next we addressed the structural damage. The seat was loose and the slats on the back needed to be reinforced. Neither of us being carpenters, we did the best we could to repair the weak structure with wood glue and a rubber mallet. We clamped the chair and let it dry. When we checked back, she was a much sturdier version of her once unsteady self, but there was still work to be done.
We used a special wood filler to disguise the dents and gouges that were much too deep to be sanded away. When the filler was dry and had been gently sanded, we could barely feel that those deep ruts had ever even been there!
Finally, when the chair was as smooth as we could make it, my husband and I gently massaged in a wood conditioner to strengthen and replenish the soft wood fibers. The wood was thirsty and drank up the rich liquid like the dry earth soaks up the small offerings of a rain shower after a drought.
It was now time to brush on the finish. When the surface was coated, we let the chair dry overnight, and then sanded her smooth again. Brush. Dry. Sand. Brush. Dry. Sand. Brush. Dry. Sand. When we were satisfied that we had done our best to bring my chair back to life, my husband delicately applied a fine coat of varnish to help protect the chair from any further damage.
Finally, we realize that our long labor of love is complete. There are still a few blemishes which only a trained eye can see, but what has emerged from brokenness is something beautiful. My chair is restored; revived; renewed! My eyes are pulled toward the rich color of the new finish, the smoothness of the patched surface, the sheen of a fresh coat of varnish, rather than away from the once hideous heap. This terrible, abused embarrassment from my childhood has now become worthy of display! This rocking chair will now serve my daughter, who was born a short time later. I can watch her sit in this chair and not worry that it will crumble beneath her. I can allow her to rock in this chair with the confidence that it will always support her. I can trust that she can soothe her ‘babies’ in this chair, and that maybe someday her babies can soothe their ‘babies’ in this chair.
Thanks to my husband, who chose to repair rather than reject,
I have a wooden rocker.


Author's Note: This has a few fragments (on purpose) and I'm comma-retarded. The tenses are also on purpose, but any suggestions on anything would be greatly appreciated. This is for a Creative Nonfiction class--The Personal essay.

Posted on 02/10/2009
Copyright © 2021 Leah Laiben

Member Comments on this Poem
Posted by Greg Williams on 02/10/09 at 05:40 AM

Aside from a little editing, as you mentioned in your authors note I think you have a pretty good start for a personal essay, I found it to be engaging. Personal essays were something I always struggled with in school and often the critiques I would get would come down to being arranged poorly or for being too monotone. Yours certainly doesn't come off as monotone to say the least though I don't want to take a guess in how it could or should be arranged in terms of length of paragraphs, etc. Hope that helps...

Posted by Charlie Morgan on 02/10/09 at 03:48 PM

...leah, applause for having the hutzpah to ask anything regarding your writing...ahem, you're a bigger man[sic] than me!...i saw the chair, your awareness come alive as the story unfolded and somewhere after that i [being a 62 yr. old Pawpaw] it[the chair, its [now] changing purpose became a metaphor for us--the oldsters...it's a 29 yr. old's world, ya know! grin. so just about every line with reference to anything started 'fitting-in' with the concept of us humans and how we deal w/ gerontology yada yada and children [who have no power] and while i want to hug you for the rocking of yo' daughter and then, in turn, her daughter...'cepting that creeping memory of those "old" things, heirlooms...i would keep that chair as a [what we grew-up calling a "pretty"] and it had its own throne-ish area...and we were'nt rich...i love this phoenix aura of bringing the life back from something we have tossed. the only things i feel good about suggesting that i'd suggest to Jesus, line breaks, line breaks, line breaks...and you and i and thomas wolfe love commas and semicolons, well, me and tom anyway...i like elipses...this could be a child's favorite chair story ala Velvetene Rabbit. thanks liah.

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