The Little Blue Rocking Chair

January 1878

“Katherine has an infection in her womb. This is a very grave condition. We believe that putting the baby to breast could pass this infection on to the child and might cure her. Of course, that puts great risk to the baby who probably will not survive. Do you want to try to save your wife with an almost certain risk of the baby succumbing to a deadly infection?”

“Doctor, I have two sons and two daughters, but only one wife to care for them. If it can save my wife, we must try, for who will take care of the smaller children and a baby while I am out in the fields or in the barn? We certainly must try to save her. I can always have another son. 

“Very well. We’ll begin the feedings.”

As the young physician put the tiny baby boy to his mother’s breast, he couldn’t help but exclaim under his breath, “Such a mild-tempered baby. He is perfect in every way. What a shame there is so little value placed on his life.”

Hungrily, the infant sucked on his fist, but never cried out. When put to breast, he nursed mightily every three hours for a day and a half. Katherine’s fever never broke while baby John continued to thrive. Finally on the third day of the fever, the young mother took her last breath.

After the funeral, the house became a house of tears. Relatives went home. The doctor went back to his office, and to his other patients. Baby John’s sister, Cora, age six, became his primary caregiver. The older siblings worked with their father, George Michael, or they were in school. He quickly realized that washing diapers and taking care of a new baby was a big order for a small girl like Cora. He had no choice but to rely on her. He needed the two older children to help him whenever they were available. It was quickly apparent that he should find another wife. How could he milk cows, feed livestock, plow the fields, and collect the eggs and at the same time keep an eye on the two younger children, age six and five, plus a baby?

At church the next Sunday a rather homely thin, blue-eyed spinster named Cordelia stopped to talk. “What beautiful children you have. I was sorry to hear about your losing your wife. You will have to think about marrying again very soon.”

He smiled at her. She wasn’t much to look at, but she seemed nice. She was right, he needed a wife and soon. The older children should be back in school and somebody had to take care of the smaller ones. A wife to cook the meals, help with the chickens and the washing and the milking would be a godsend.

A few weeks later, after several meetings with Cordelia, George and she were married at the old Brethren church in Red Haw, Ohio, as four children looked on with little Cora cradling baby John in her small arms.

After the ceremony, they returned to the farm so George could get started on the evening chores. There were always cows to milk twice a day, animals to be fed and taken care of for the night. George thought to himself that he would have to remind Dill of her duties as a farmer’s wife. He married her to have a helpmate.

That was the beginning of a horrific life for baby John. He gnawed on his fingers and cried to be fed. The diaper rash blistered and bled as the result of unchanged diapers. Little Cora was the only caregiver in his life and she was at school every day, along with the other two older children.

When John was two, Dill purchased a little blue rocking chair. She plunked the tiny boy into that chair and screamed, “Now, you little devil, sit there and don’t you get up.  Don’t you dare!” If he stood or cried, she slapped him sharply across the face.

Day after day he sat, unoccupied, in the little blue chair, never allowed to stand. As the months and years passed, he stopped crying. He sat and sat and sat.

Finally, when he had become a little boy, Dill cried, “Get him out of here!  I’m sick of him!”

John was grown-up enough to help on the farm, to go to school, and finally he no longer spent his days in the little blue rocking chair. He was gentle and mild, loved by his older brothers and sisters and by the younger children who had come into the family. Cordelia still took every opportunity to give him a firm slap in the face whenever the opportunity arose.

Occasionally he was sent to work for an uncle who had a farm several miles away. One summer John met beautiful Lydia who lived near his uncle. When he saw her at a church party, he fell for her at first sight. Several years later they became man and wife and eventually they bought a pretty little farm with a red barn and a lovely two-story house. He and Lydia had two sons they loved dearly, and they had a home full of peace and love.

Still, he could never stop thinking about his childhood and the wicked Dill. He told Lydia, “I have to forgive Dill for the way she treated me when I was small.” He worried about the anger he felt whenever she came to his mind.

“Could we invite her to come and have a meal with us? I won’t get to heaven unless I can forgive her.”

“Of course we can have her over. I’ll fix something nice, but it won’t be easy to forgive that woman.”

“Don’t be unkind, Liddy. It must have been hard for her to marry a man who expected her to work so hard and who had so many responsibilities.”

Liddy huffed off and said no more. She fixed a nice dinner with chicken, mashed potatoes, a green and a yellow vegetable, each in a nice cream sauce, homemade rolls. She outdid herself by also making a beautiful grape pie for dessert with grapes from her own arbor.

Dill was invited into the parlor after dinner. Nothing had been mentioned about the abusive treatment John had experienced all those years. All was cordial. It was as if an old and very special friend was visiting.

Lydia could hardly keep the smile off her face when they entered the parlor. Sitting right in the middle of the floor was the little blue rocking chair. Where it had been found, only smug little Lydia knew for sure.

Dill stopped mid-sentence and stared at it. She lost the color in her face. Soon after that she claimed a headache and left.

There were several more visits over the years and mysteriously, that little rocker always had a place of honor in the middle of the parlor floor. Who knows? Maybe old Dill realized the error of her ways and repented. Maybe she is looking down from heaven right now, still regretting the treatment she gave to a small infant and child.

Child abuse isn’t new. Recently someone asked on Facebook, “What were you afraid of as a child?” In almost every case the people stated that they feared one parent or the other. I personally grew up with friends who were regularly abused. Everybody knew, but nobody ever reported the abusers.                  

We must all be vigilant for signs of child abuse and report our suspicions to our local child protective agency. It is the responsibility of every adult to do whatever he can to protect the children.

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Linda L. Steele
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