Persons, places and things: In the arms of a rocking chair


My mom and I were reminiscing recently about her grandma, Elizabeth, a woman whose warm smile and welcoming arms filled our hearts and expanded our capacity to love.

Barb Arland-Fye as a child with her great-grandma Elizabeth.

She lived in an efficiency apartment in an older building in St. Cloud, Minnesota, a one-and-half-hour drive from our home in the Twin Cities. I called her Grandma St. Cloud, thinking that was her name and no one corrected me. When I was a toddler, my family lived for a short time in St. Cloud, to my great-grandma’s delight, but we moved back to the Twin Cities when my dad accepted a new job.

We visited often enough that my mom said I gave directions in the car to get to great-grandma’s apartment building. I remember walking up a long flight of stairs to her apartment bursting with anticipation to spend time with Grandma St. Cloud. She had two daughters, 10 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren and loved every one of them.

My great-grandma, always wearing a dress and heels, greeted everyone at the door with a smile and then sat in her rocking chair. All of the children who visited wanted to sit in great-grandma’s lap or stand beside her rocking chair, my mom said. “She always had a smile on her face. She was so happy to see everyone.” She also loved to dance and taught her grandchildren, including my mom, to dance the polka.


Eventually, great-grandma needed to move from her apartment to live with her surviving daughter, my grandma, Marcella, and then into a nursing home when her


heart weakened. The rocking chair, now worn out from loving use, needed a new home. My mom gladly provided it. She also undertook the painstaking task of refurbishing the rocking chair, sanding down the worn spots in the arms, and staining and finishing the chair before having the seat re-caned.

During one of her visits to our house, my great-grandma saw the refurbished rocking chair and appreciated my mom’s labor of love, except for one thing — the “new” arms. “Oh the stories those arms could tell,” my great-grandma said, recalling with fondness all of her years rocking in that chair with small loved ones in her lap.

Her grandmother’s reaction served as a tender reminder to my mom that not everything worn out needs a do-over and not everything broken needs fixing. The chair had aged with grandma, her inanimate companion on a journey of love and loss and the comfort of rocking to see her through it.

In his apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), Pope Francis says “The elderly help us to appreciate ‘the continuity of the generations,’ by their ‘charism of bridging the gap.’ … Their words, their affection or simply their presence help children to realize that history did not begin with them, that they are now part of an age-old pilgrimage and that they need to respect all that came before them.”

The conversation I enjoyed with my mom the other night reconnected us with a grandmother whose love and affection, so evident from the arms of her rocking chair, set an example for us on this pilgrim journey. My reminder is the rocking chair, now in residence in my home.

(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at

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