Porch Rocking Lullabye to Sleep


I cannot tell you when the last time I rocked myself to sleep.

I do remember the smell of Alabama summer thunderstorms–ozone, Zoyzia grass and wet sidewalks,  the faint hint of sulfur if Jackson Steel was pouring out on first avenue. Summer storms after dinner, four of us on the “glider”–a metal seat on metal straps hung from a frame.

In the same exact point of the arc of swing, a clunk here, a faint squeak there, time after time after time. The back and forth, the warm laps, the soft summer night–how could two small boys have stayed awake?

We must have been about 4 and 2, him headed north, me south; his head in momma’s lap, mine in Granny Bea’s. Lightning far off, no thunder; lightning bugs blink faintly yellow-green in the dark on the metal screen, squeak-clunk-pause, squeak-clunk-pause. And I was rocked gently off to sleep already in my jammies.

We have a porch swing for less than a week now. Better than that, a friend made it and helped me hang it. And he wood-burned a remarkable image of our house into the back of it.

Come back tomorrow, I’ll show and tell. But tonight, I’m going out to listen from the porch swing to the shush of the creek, the whirr of crickets, and the sound that the silver chains make, back and forth, back and forth, back and…

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. How I wish we had a covered porch big enough to have a porch swing on! I have very pleasant memories of long summer afternoons in my Aunt Anne’s porch swing, reading or just watching the world go by. Might have napped some, too — don’t recall.

    And are you talking about Birmingham, Alabama? I was born and reared there. I have indelible memories of riding down First Avenue in the back seat, holding my breath as we went over the viaduct so I wouldn’t have to smell the umm… flatus-like odor of the steel mills!