Wicker Chairs and Memories

[Another entry from my old files, this one an internal exploration of a line from a song I’ve loved since I was very young, and its effect on my memories and nostalgia.]

We don’t often think about the significance of certain objects until we realize that they are no longer there, or that their meaning has been altered. This happens frequently with objects from our childhoods, for as children we take everything for granted, but as adults we look to the past and, remembering, we are able to analyze the weight those objects carried in our minds, hearts and memories.

It usually happens that you will be thinking of something completely innocuous, and suddenly, like a tune half-remembered, or a scent that transports you to a location in your distant past, you will encounter a picture, or a word or another object that will propel by force the memories of that one thing that had become lost in the corners of your mind, and at that point you will be flooded with memories and sudden understanding for the meaning the object truly held.

This happened to me not a few minutes ago. I was humming a tune from my childhood softly in an under voice so as not to disturb my roommate who is still asleep at this early time in the morning. The tune is one I have listened to and sung several times; it is a song by Joan Manuel Serrat, probably the most famous Spanish singer of the last fifty years. Ever since my father introduced me to Serrat when I was a child on one of those hot and slow summer days that is always illuminated in soft yellow light in my memories, I have been utterly fascinated by the poetry of his songs. He is undoubtedly one of our great modern poets; the man simply has the gift of the muses in ways the rest of us can only wish to have but an ounce.

It is not surprising then that whenever I am feeling bored, lonely, sad or simply nostalgic I will break out humming or outright belting out one of his tunes. On this occasion it was the song ‘Si la muerte pisa mi huerto’ (If death treads on my garden); a haunting lovely melody about dying and what will happen upon the death of a person. It’s not nearly as macabre as it sounds; rather it is an exercise in hypothetical, and in contemplation of that which man leaves behind.  As I softly murmured the song, while dressing and gathering my things for the day (a task I have stopped for a moment as I write this), I came across one of the lines in the song that has always held a particular poetic quality to me.

Have you noticed this with songs? That there can be one specific line which strikes at you far more than the rest of the song and fills you with a sense of understanding of the very universe; as though the cosmos was contained within that one phrase and all its mysteries could suddenly be revealed. As though that line transcended the rest of the poem/song and became an axiom itself. For me, there are several lines from different songs which have this effect on me and I wonder if they carry the same feeling for other people or if these lines affect only my own soul. One such line is from Simon and Garfunkel’s song ‘America’, which is in itself a very sad and wise tune about the fall of the American dream. The line says ‘And the moon rose over and open field’. The visual imagery combined with the soft voice of the singer create in me a sense of thrilling sadness. Another such line is the ‘the church bells all were broken’ verse from ‘American Pie’. It always fills me with the illusion that I suddenly understand something beyond my own existence, even if I cannot entirely pinpoint what that is.

In the particular Serrat song I was singing today, the line that always does it for me is one that says: ‘quién sera el nuevo dueño de mi casa y mis sueños, y mi sillón de mimbre?’ (who will be the new owner of my house and my dreams, and my wicker chair?). This line has long remained in my mind for its curious imagery. The song is about a man wondering who will own his possessions after he has died. In this line he wonders about his house (something normal that will be passed on to someone else), but then he wonders who will own his dreams. It sets me to wondering about the nature of dreams, and whether they can be owned by another person, or in fact whether dreams can be owned by the dreamer themselves. I am aware that this is a very fanciful notion, about the nature of dreams, but it makes for an interesting subject.

However, the part that I think brings the whole line together and transcends it, is the inclusion of a wicker chair. Taking a page from William Carlos Williams’ book, ‘how much depends upon’ a wicker chair? Why should Serrat have mentioned such an object? What value does it hold? What does it mean? Certainly it is an object which would be passed on to a new owner in the event of the previous one’s demise, but why would that carry the same nostalgic value as houses and dreams?

Nonetheless, I realize that any object can have more nostalgic value than houses and dreams, because nostalgic value is not something we choose for ourselves, but instead something that becomes a part of ourselves without us realizing it. In the case of a wicker chair, how many memories might it hold? How many moments? These moments and memories cannot be passed down to a new owner. This means that all that a wicker chair represents to one person and cannot be conveyed to another, is lost. A house can be passed down, but equally, it carries with it so much more than just walls, roof and floors. And dreams, well, a dream might be passed on, but can it have the same connotation, the same value?

For me, it is the inclusion of the wicker chair which brings meaning to the other two objects, and examines the hidden meanings objects carry. However what surprises me the most it that as I was thinking this, I realized that the image of a wicker chair had particular value to me as well. I then retrieved a memory that I had not thought of for many, many years. For as long as I have heard the song, I have associated it with the wicker rocking chair at my house; the one where my mother used to rock us children to sleep. Yet today I suddenly remembered another wicker chair, one whose nostalgic value I had thought lost, or rather I had never completely realized.

There was another rocking chair in my childhood. Two more to be exact, in my paternal grandmother’s house – a regular sized one (like the one in my house) where my grandmother, small and wizened would sit and rock back and forth as she recited her half-remembered songs and narrated strange half-remembered stories from her own childhood, and a tiny one, where I would sit and listen. The small rocking chair was an exact replica of the big one, and I have since seen such midget chairs for children, although I had not thought of that chair for years; I had not thought of all that it represented:

A simpler time; a little girl whose feet barely touched the ground, even in that tiny chair, as she rocked slowly back and forth listening to tales of country houses and large open fields, and of superstitions and the supernatural, of pranks and loves and deaths and life. How much was that child absorbing, how much of what she heard is part of who I am? I remember swaying back and forth, back and forth, imitating the rhythm my grandmother set with her own rocking motion, rocking in tandem to the intensity of her stories, or in tune with whatever song she sang. As I sit here and ponder these things, I am filled with both happiness and nostalgia and a sudden longing for that little wicker chair whose value I hadn’t realized even after years of listening to that old Serrat song., and I ask: where is my wicker chair? Who owns it now? And when they sit on it and rock back and forth listening to stories and songs of old, do they also dream? I wonder.



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