A rocking chair with chipped paint sat eloquently in the corner of the dusty attic. It was shoved so far back, blocked by all the other junk littering the sweltering hot, dust-ridden cramped space, that I hadn’t noticed its presence the first few times I’d ventured up here. But as I made my way farther back, peeling back dilapidated sheets, unveiling deserted artifacts––a discolored wedding dress, an enormous trunk stuffed with threadbare boots, a crumpled cardboard box packed with old tools like wrought iron calipers––that’s when I noticed the relic huddled in the corner.
Being an antique collector and wanting to get a closer look, I scooted the mangled box of tools to the side with my white canvas sneaker, creating a safe path between me and that intriguing chair. Hunched over, careful not to bang my head on the rafters above me or scrape my back on the rusty nails poking out from the new roof that had been recently installed, I shuffled tentatively over the wood beam, not wanting to meet my demise by slipping off, landing on the insulation, and crashing through the ceiling. I aimed my flashlight at the chair, noticing how the layers of dust camouflaged its true color.
Gingerly, I trudged along, placing my left foot next to my right, sliding sideways, stirring up decades of dirt, clouding my once clean sneakers, now a light shade of gray covered in what looked like soot. I coughed in response to the tiny specks drifting up, tickling my nose and throat. I placed the crook of my elbow over my mouth as I teetered on the beam, practically falling over in half.
Regaining my composure, I swiped the sweat off the back of my neck with my free hand, leaving a dirt trail in its wake. A few more steps and I’d be there, but with my next step, something bumped up against my leg. I stopped. Frozen in place. Afraid to look down. To see what softness had just brushed my exposed shin.
“Oh God!” I squealed, shutting my eyes tight. I silently cursed myself and said into the darkness surrounding me, “I should’ve worn my jeans.” But knowing the high temperatures up here, especially in the middle of July, I had thought better of it, opting for a pair of capri leggings, which I was now regretting.
I held my breath, listening for any sounds of movement, for any creature that might be scurrying around. Clenching my teeth, I slowly pointed the flashlight down and the first thing I saw, was a small clump of brown fur. Frightened by this discovery, I quickly shuffled back to my left, closing my eyes. “Come on,” I encouraged myself, “be brave.” I inhaled deeply, more dust rushing into my nostrils, prompting another coughing spurt.
When it subsided, arms as stiff as an overly starched shirt, I flicked the light down again at the spot where I had just been standing, knowing good and well, if it was a creature, we’d need to find a way to cohabitate for the time being. As the light descended, illuminating the fuzzy offender, I peeled one eye open, squinting. Realizing what it was, I let out a laugh; a full-bellied, hearty laugh. It was a long, thin, brown, feathery, boa.
With that mystery solved, I continued slowly like a sloth. Only a few more steps until I reached what had caught my attention: that magnificent, antique rocking chair.
Unsteady on the slim wood, I outstretched my hand and laid it in the middle of the seat, feeling the warmth from the sun shining through the narrow slats of the louvered vent hanging just above it. Drinking in the craftsmanship, I gasped. I could tell that this striking chair was old. Very old; the mahogany wood a clue. It must’ve been built in the early 1800’s because that was the popular wood choice back then. Furthermore, the shellac finish confirmed its possible age since varnish didn’t come along until much later.
I ran my fingers over the curves and lines, feeling the splintered wood bleeding through the shellac, grazing my smooth palm, sure I’d find slivers under my lucid skin days later. And as I skimmed underneath the seat, my fingers were met by a piece of paper. I tried to yank it, but it wouldn’t budge. With my heart pounding against my ribs, I knelt down, craning my neck to get a better look. I angled the flashlight up under there and saw the words “For My Love” scribbled in crimson red ink across the yellowed envelope. I peered over my shoulder as if I were expecting the author of this letter to be standing behind me.
Shaking my head at my ridiculousness, I rummaged under the seat, and pried the paper loose, surprised at its stickiness given the current heat and what I guessed to be the age of the rocker. I wedged the flashlight between my chin and chest, freeing up my hands to open the secretive envelope. I slowly slipped out the paper, unfolding the wrinkly sheath, my eyes darting back and forth, treasuring each and every word. While holding the letter with one hand, I covered my gaping mouth with the other, and by the time I’d reached the end, tears dampened my flushed cheeks, spilling onto the thin parchment, thankfully not smudging the hardened and cracked, faded curly letters.
My breaths came in short, quick bursts. What do I do now? Do I share my news? Invite the world to marvel at what I’ve found? Or do I keep it for myself? Find a special place in my own home for such an extraordinary artifact? I didn’t know what to do, overcome by my discovery. As questions filled my headspace, the one question that stood out above all others was how had no one else found this? How could I possibly be the first one to have stumbled upon it?
I lifted the letter again, rereading the swoops and loops of the black ink––the blood of the fountain pen––the tool that must’ve been used to craft this piece of art:
Although you are my second born, I have handcrafted this chair especially for you. As you nested in your mother’s stomach, I had a strong premonition about you. I don’t know how or why, nor would I ever tell anyone because they’d look at me like I’m crazy, (and trust me, they have reason to think I’m crazy enough with me already marrying a non-Quaker and going against my congregation with my ideals about ending slavery), but I sensed your future greatness like the witches sensed Macbeth would be king. I see you changing the lives of so many around you. I see you standing up for what you believe in. I see you paving the way. As you came kicking and screaming into this world in the way that you did, I felt it. Your strength. Your determination. Your resolve.
Since we’ve fallen on hard times, so I put my normally textile hands to wood carving, hoping it brings me work. When your mother rocks you to sleep or soothes you during colicky fits, I hope you feel the power of my love flowing through its solid material, bringing you comfort, settling you, returning you to a state of bliss. And as you nestle against your mother, swaddled in warmth against her bosom, may contentment overtake you.
I know that strong spirits like us will be faced with many adversities in life, but with your pluckiness, you will overcome all of them, becoming greater than you can ever imagine. More than you dare dream. More than you will ever know. But I, your father, can see it in those bright blue eyes of yours. They burn bright, and they will set fire to untrodden paths, trailblazing the way for generations to come. I promise you, one day, the world will know who Susan Anthony is.
Your Loving Father,
March 1, 1820
I folded the letter, tucking it safely in my side pocket. As I descended the ladder, rejoining the others milling about on the second floor of the house, I knew exactly what I was going to do. I just needed (or more aptly, wanted) a few more minutes alone with this spectacular discovery before the rest of the world feasted its eyes upon that rocking chair with the chipped paint, safeguarding such a precious treasure.