by Mark Poe
I have a lawn chair named Matthew. Matthew is as much a part of my family as the rest of this farm. Just as every pecan tree or chicken coop or storage shed that sits on it. He’s really nothing special to look at. He’s weather-beaten and life-battled. Rust holds the spots where bolts once were. Bare metal indicates where he’s been tossed around by the winds and thrown like just any other piece of outdoor furniture. That’s how he’s like me. The coat of black paint that once glistened in the new spring light now is spotted and worn slick from time and use. He probably was once the pride of my grandfather, as he would sit on him in the evenings after long days in the field, worn down from hand-chopping or hand-picking cotton. Matthew was there waiting for him. He was a momentary relaxing transition from the harsh Arkansas summer heat to the cool shower before supper. He was a recharging station for the body to move to that next part of the day. He would allow the mind to mull over the thoughts of the farm life and clear the doubts, before going in to see Grandma. The little extra time it took to change the worrisome smirk of the farmer’s brow to a warm and loving look in the eyes to give her the peace that all was well.
As I mentioned, Matthew was bought by my Grandpa Jim in a year so long past it wasn’t worth remembering. It sat next to the yard swing that he had built for my Grandma. Her favorite spring afternoon activity, after filling the bellies of however many gathered around her table, was to walk outside in the lazy afternoon sun and rest herself in the swing. There was always a shuffling for space on the swing, as Grandma’s crutches had to stay within arm’s reach. Grandpa bought the chair to have his own place, but in his heart, it was so she had all the room she needed. That was how Matthew came to be adopted into the family. I remember fondly, sitting in the dirt under the willow tree, with just the slightest of breeze to tousle the hair. It would feel like an unwelcome spider web floating on the breeze. The orange glow of the dusk of day and the buzzing announcement of the mosquito’s arrival. Grandpa always kept one extra tomato cage over in our little circle of the outside world to tightly pack grass clippings. When the pesky skeeters became too much of a nuisance, he would light the unseasoned clippings. It created a smoldering smoke tunnel that swirled in the southern breeze and coated us as armor against the biting hordes. I still feel the small trickles of sweat rolling down my cheeks, as I created small villages in the dirt while Grandma would sing. Grandpa’s cigar smoke melded with the burning grass clippings and created the smell of warmth and fresh grass of Spring. Once the darkness had won out over the day, the same light breeze would chill the sweat on the exposed skin. I would go in for my bath, Grandpa for bed, and Grandma for her chair. Matthew stayed and looked over the now finger-like strand of smoke from the tomato cage, as it wound its way to the Heavens. He stood sentinel over my dirt village until tomorrow’s footsteps took their toll and the rebuilding would begin. At Grandpa’s house, Matthew was privileged to hear countless stories of fox hunts, deer chases and duck hunts. I’m sure he never minded the harsh language that accompanied many of these. He was there for some slick talking deals on farm animals and hunting dogs. He was there until both Grandma and Grandpa had passed. With the swing now sitting idly by, the only movement from that same light breeze, creaking out Grandma’s tunes collected in the chains, showed it was time for Matthew to move. He came to live with us.
I was only six years old when Matthew moved to our yard. His permanent spot in the yard with us took time to find. He moved from the edge of the garden, where he would be waiting for Dad to plop down after hoeing out the peas. Oftentimes he would cheerfully hold the hoe, while Dad would give the garden a drink as needed during the long stints free from rain. Then, there would be times he would be moved over to the edge of a small aluminum-sided swimming pool where Mom would lifeguard all her grandkids, as they flopped around in the six inches of water that she allowed in the pool. After that task, he would be placed around the fire for the retelling of the same stories he already heard, but this time from new voices. He never complained about the repetitions. He would be needed, on occasion, by my Dad when he required the privacy of a father/son or father/daughter talk. He would dole out his disappointment in our actions or wisdom from ones not yet taken and approval of those we handled well. These times were meant for only the ears of the two. And of course, Matthew. He has gone through sadness, as well as the joy of growing up on a family farm. After years of covering nearly every inch of the farmhouse lot, he was finally placed in his “spot.” His days would now see the rising sun from underneath a large paper shell pecan tree. Sure, it would drip sap and sure it would be rude about sharing the spot, but who couldn’t love Matthew? In time, they became inseparable. He became Dad’s sitting spot, just as he had for Grandpa. He had ownership. No one else sat on Matthew if Dad was around. When it was time to shell peas or pecans, silk corn and cut it off, or rest from the back-breaking labor of the day, Matthew was there and he was Dad’s. As time began to steal the energy from my Dad and his days were spent breathing the clean country air after a summer rain, he went to Matthew. When the flying geese announced their passing overhead, Dad would go see Matthew and turn him where they would both face the river bottoms, to watch the mallards over the treetops. When only God’s light from above could fill his eyes, he would spend hours with Matthew, recalling the memories of those who had walked this home place who meant the most to him: his family. These thoughts were shared with Matthew.
When the certainty of life took Dad home, Matthew dealt with the loss by becoming my lawn chair. A ravaging ice storm took his pecan tree, but he now sits proudly by a fire pit in my backyard. He’s watched my children burn countless marshmallows to total blackness and has endured a number of those smoldering rockets being launched in his lap. These are always washed by the cool rains – the same cool rains that have washed all the crud of life off of him. Sure, it brought the rust, yet he stays diligent. He’s old and worn down, but he’s still there, every day, waiting for someone to need a place to rest. He has heard the harsh words exchanged in anger and he has heard the loving words passed for the growth of the young. He has held me, while being judge and jury. He was there when I faced the struggles of the world and just needed to escape into the quietness of a country night to reflect on the thousands of whys we all ask. He’s been there when I have questioned the Almighty about his dealings in my life and he was there when I’ve fought with the Devil over my salvation. He has been with me as the struggle of trying to find my belief and which path I would spiritually walk gave him his name. I had grown weary from disappointments, I had lost faith over battles fought, I had lost direction. It was then that I sat by the fire pit and searched God’s word for that magic energy drink for the soul that would tell me it would be o.k. and that all would be fine. During this particular trial, I came across a scripture that had been repeated throughout my Sunday School classes: Matthew 11:28. “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.” I know that as long as I live this life, I’m going to be weary. I know that when my particular end-of-days comes, I will be ready for that rest that has been spoken of. But, until that day, when I am tired from the everyday battles, I will go see Matthew. I hope my Son recognizes the importance of Matthew to us and can tap into all the knowledge that has been soaked up over the generations into his rough and rusted metal parts.