The old man on the rocking chair . . !


IT was the silver wedding anniversary celebrations of a Punjabi couple I went for. As I watched them both, I realized how much the husband relied on his wife. I walked to the bar and as usual the men folk were gathered around their drinks and there was laugher as a bearded gentleman slightly tipsy repeated a joke:

“A man had been in a public telephone booth for half an hour. He appeared to be very bored and though he held the receiver to his ear, he made no attempt to speak. At last one of the crowd outside who were waiting to use the phone, opened the door and asked abruptly, “Are you speaking to anybody?”

“Yes,” said the man, “I’m speaking to my wife!” “Ha, ha, ha!” roared everyone with appreciative laughter, and I quietly moved away with a smile to another table where another old gent was also narrating a husband and wife story.

“The old Jewish couple ran a tiny, cluttered Mamma-Papa store near our house. The store was filled with a thousand and one items to excite the taste and smell-lox, halvah, pickles, strudel, and many other delicious things. On balmy summer days Mama and Papa sometimes sat outside of the store – side by side, in two old rockers – Papa, with his hands folded and head bowed on his gray white whiskers. Snoring softly.

And Mama – always sitting on the side nearest his heart, with her small, thin hand resting on his shoulder. From time to time she would look at him tenderly, her smile and the snowy whiteness of her hair making her look like an angel. And she would say; “Papa – he is such a child.”

When awake, Papa would hold Mama’s hand – the one she rested on his shoulder. And so the peaceful days passed along with these gentle people, and the years melted, one into the other. Then one day I heard the news that is so hard for the very young to comprehend – Mama was gone. Papa joined her soon afterward, but the day before he died he was sitting outside the store in his old rocker, his hand on his left shoulder – patting it – just as he’d always done when the chair beside him wasn’t vacant. Papa didn’t hear the person who came up softly behind him but who left quietly upon hearing Papa say:

“You didn’t want me to be afraid, Mama …. As a small child might be afraid … you went first…..” “How strange” I thought, “two totally different kinds of stories in the space of one evening. I looked at my friend again, the one who’s silver anniversary it was today; flamboyant, pushy and driven, the woman, steady, rock like behind him and I knew that he had the kind of woman the old man on the rocking chair had had…!