Memories are the ultimate contradiction. They can warm us on our coldest days or they can freeze a loved one out of our lives forever. The McCarthy family has a trove of warm memories. Of innocent first kisses. Of sumptuous family meals. Of wondrous lessons learned at the foot of a rocking chair. But they also have had their share of icy ones. Of words that can never be unsaid. Of choices that can never be unmade. Of actions that can never be undone.
Following the death of his beloved wife, John McCarthy Grandpa John calls his family back home. It is time for them to face the memories they have made, both warm and cold. Only then can they move beyond them and into the future.
The Rockin’ Chair reached in and touched my heart. It made me think of a saying—we are infinite spirits having a temporary human experience—don’t know where I heard it but it popped into my mind. Big John McCarthy’s spiritual faith makes him confident he, one day soon, will be with his Alice that Alzheimer’s had taken from him. But his earthly need to set things right for his son and grandchildren before he goes to her resonates throughout the story.
John loved and still loves his son Hank with all his being, yet somewhere along the line things went wrong. John tried to help Hank become a man but he used the harsh methods he’d learned from his father. John made Hank bitter. He alienated his son. Not even Alice’s gentle words made John see what he was doing and how his stubbornness and pride had cost him dearly. He suffers and works and works. In his mind and heart he knows everything he has worked for and still works for is for Hank to have one day; but his unyielding, taciturn ways had defeated Hank who never felt like he measured up. Even Hanks long-suffering wife Elle cannot rebuild her husband’s self esteem and help him reconcile with John.
Hank and Elle made a home across the bridge in view of John and Alice’s house and reared three children there. The children loved John and Alice and learned so much from them. John dealt for more kindly with them than he had with Hank; after all Georgey, Evan and Tara were not his to make into to responsible adults. Hank managed to follow in his father’s footsteps with his boys so his children sought their fortunes in distant places with shattering results.
Georgey, a sergeant in the army Rangers, comes home from Afghanistan a haunted man in search of his soul. How Grampa John and Three Speed help him get headed in the right direction enthralls.
Evan comes home with a broken heart and shattered dreams. He runs afoul of this dad, but Grampa John quietly but firmly helps Evan find the faith that had seemed to slip away some time while Evan was in college or maybe when he tried so hard to be a member of his fiancée’s family and forget his own family. The example Grampa John uses with the old glass bottle with a rainbow in it when the sun caught it at just the right angel is so revealing.
Tara comes home an alcoholic and drug addict with a precious little daughter that soaks up family love like a sponge. Tara’;s battle for normalcy is heartbreaking and will be on going, but with Grampa John’s unrelenting care and some kind, but stern guidance, there is hope. His simple question—do you hate yourself more than you love your daughter—touches something in Tara and prods her into making a more determined effort.
The hardest task John must tackle is making things right with Hank. Their relationship is fraught with so much hurt and bitterness, but with prayer and a God that never fails, John finds a way so his soul can rest in peace when it is time to go be with his Alice. Moreover, he learns it is so much better to be KIND than be RIGHT.
I’m still reeling with wonder as to how Steven Manchester uses ordinary words that we all use but puts them together so masterfully that they tap into emotions, senses, and one’s very being. He helps a reader identify, sympathize, or empathize with imaginary characters to the point that this reader was shedding tears for their hurts, railing at characters that wrong them, and in my mind and heart sharing life experiences with them. His amazing descriptions let the reader vicariously experience the deep cold of Montana winters, the blush of early spring, the smell, texture, sounds of the barn, the atmosphere of The Corn Crib dive, the timelessness of the seasons, the endlessness of hard work on a Montana farm, and so much more. Mr. Manchester’s exquisite writing style makes this poignant story memorable and joy to read.
The Rockin’ Chair rings so true to life as it reveals the strength of family love that survives through the good and the bad. It is a keeper.