I wrote this story when I was seventeen while I was minding the antique shop down the road from our home. I used to work there in exchange for merchandise. I had a teacup collection I was building. My grandma read this one before she died; she teared up reading it, as I did just now, reading back over it. It is still one of my favorite stories.
She sat upon the wide plank swing that hung swaying from the tall oak tree that had been there for as long as she could remember. Her wrinkled hands gingerly clutched the rough ropes that suspended the worn wooden seat. Her eyes were closed. The breeze toyed with a strand of her silvery white hair, kissing her cheeks, then the back of her neck as the swing rocked back and forth. The creak of the old ropes played in her ears, reminding her of all of the times they had groaned out their rhythmic song in gentle cadence to her life.
Her lips curved into a gentle smile.
Her first memory of the swing came from her babyhood. Cradled on her mother's lap, she had giggled playfully at each push and sway as her father propelled it in its seemingly endless dance. Echoes of her mother's laughter paid court in her memory to her father's playful grin. She could still feel the tickles he had placed on her little-girl tummy.
Her next memory came when she was three years old, old enough to sit precariously on the wavering seat and cling tightly to the ropes by herself.
"Come on, honey," her mother coached. "In, out, in out...That's it!"
She looked down in studious concentration at her chubby legs, willing them to move in synchrony to her mother's encouraging voice. The swing began to move on its own.
"I'm doing it, Mommy! Look! I'm doing it!" She leapt off the swing, the springtime wind tossing her dark curls as her mother swung her up in a flurry of giggles. The fragrance of honeysuckle perfume filled her nostrils.
During her tomboy years, she remembered swinging sandwiched between her brother's legs while he stood and pumped the swing with his much larger body. She had endured many taunts about not being able to fly as high as the boys, but she had ignored them, taunting right back. Boys didn't know anything anyway.
Things had changed for her when she was thirteen. She remembered sitting on the swing, rocking as gently as she was now, watching her mother, who was seated gracefully upon a homemade patchwork quilt.
She had come into her woman's time that day, surrounded by a golden summer afternoon. Her mother shared with her the joys and triumphs of becoming a woman, sipping lemonade while a lazy breeze cooled the rosy blush of her cheeks.
A cool, rainy autumn day from her fifteenth year darkened her memory. The swing had been wet that day, wet from the tears that heaven cried on her mother's account, tears that washed her own grief-stricken heart. Anguish tore through her soul, so that she could barely draw breath. Her mother would never share another memory at the swing again.
Then her father's arms, warm and comforting as an angel's, surrounded her slender shoulders. "Hush, darling," he whispered close to her ear. "I'm still here. Your mother wouldn't want you to grieve so."
They had cried together then, her father's tears mingling with the raindrops in her hair.
Years later, she had sat on the old swing, floating gently in the lilac-scented air of a June twilight. She stared tearfully down at the glistening crystal in the hand of the man she loved as he quietly asked for her hand in marriage. Her shimmering eyes and brilliant smile had given him all the answer he needed.
That first kiss beside the swing was one she never forgot.
"He's a good man," her father had approved later, as he softly pushed her to the sound of the familiar creak creak of the ropes. He had placed a kiss on her forehead, as light as the touch of a butterfly's wing.
Soon, it was her turn to cradle a child on her lap as her husband propelled the swing. His lighthearted laughter mingled with that of their daughter's in her heart, lingering like a never-forgotten melody in the symphony of her life.
It was she who had taught her little girl how to pump. Gentle springtime fragrances had been borne on the breath of winter's last wind while her daughter's tiny legs pumped back and forth, back and forth...She still felt the grip of the childish arms grasping her in an excited hug as the little girl voice cried, "I did it, Mommy! See! I did it!"
Her father died a few years later, finally going to join the wife he had missed for so long. She had rocked for hours on the swing, unseeing in her grief, only barely aware of her husband's support and love, and of her daughter's cherub face peering into her own asking, "Mommy okay?"
She remembered sharing her own story of womanhood with her little girl who was fast growing up, though now it was she who sat on the patchwork quilt and wondered at the miracle of her baby's transformation from awkward girl to graceful woman. She remembered her inner tears and her questioning heart as she thought of her own mother.
It was at the swing she had found her grown daughter crying from premature homesickness as she prepared to leave for college, and she had consoled her with a smile and a hug, masking her own pain, even as her father had masked his to console her when her mother had died.
"Hush, darling. I'm here. I'll always be here as long as you need me."
She had been crying inside.
Then it had been her time to tell her daughter, "He's a good man. Make him happy," as the strains of Mendelssohn's music floated to their place at the old swing just before her husband came to give their daughter away forever.
What bittersweet joy had swelled in her bosom at watching her child be joined together with the man she loved, to be one flesh forever. She said goodbye, knowing things would never be the same again.
Oh, she'd never forget the thrill of holding her first grandchild in her arms, gently rocking the swing, crooning a lullaby with the crickets and night birds for harmony. Fireflies sparkled around her, magically lighting the summer evening.
She had watched her grandchildren grow up around the swing, only occasionally having to break up an argument over whose turn it was, though swinging on the old swing was a coveted privilege. Their shouts of laughter and carefree games would forever replay themselves in her heart.
It was a grieving time again upon the death of her husband, but this time, there were only the ropes of the old swing to embrace her and tell her everything was all right with their never-ending moaning song. The sun blazed down in disrespectful contradiction to the rainstorm so long ago upon the day of her mother's funeral. She had lost all hope.
Then her youngest grandchild emerged from the house and ran to her.
"Swing wif gram-ma?" The childish lilt had given her a reason to live.
Now, she sat, swaying gently while the wind played with the wispy curls that still framed her careworn face. She opened her pale blue eyes. It was another spring day, and the world around her aged body was bursting with new life.
She rose and lifted the cane that leaned against the firm old oak and began to walk away. She looked back at the swing.
It looked forlorn, moving by itself in the wind.
Sadly, she moved slowly away from it, past the moving van parked in the gravel driveway, past the SOLD sign in the front yard.
A car pulled up and a young couple climbed out. The young mother was carrying a little girl.
"Come on, Honey! You want to see the swing?" The young father asked excitedly, hunkering down to look into the innocent blue eyes of his child.
She followed the young family with her gaze until she felt a touch on her shoulder.
"Ready to go, Mom?"
Her own daughter was waiting for her.
She looked into the clear blue eyes so like her own and nodded hesitantly. "Yes, I think so." Her voice trembled with age and emotion.
She climbed awkwardly into her daughter's car, assisted by her son-in-law.
As they pulled away from what had been her home for so long, she looked back one last time, hoping to form one last memory of her swing.
The young mother cradled her child in her arms, laughing, while her husband tickled the little girl.