The Rocking Chair: Steven Manchester
The trunk of a tree is the foundation that holds it up and prevents it from falling over. But, the forces of nature often change the position of this tree trunk and years of standing out in the cold, sun, rain, storms or snow and the heavy force of the wind might even shift this foundation and force it to tilt. Each branch on this precious tree is covered with leaves to protect it and keep it warm but when the harsh winter winds blow, the season’s change the branches are once again left to deal with nature. Life can hand us many difficult situations. Each person handles strife, despair, unhappiness, loss of loved ones, jobs that are unfulfilling and even fear in their own way. With the help of families and friends most pull through but when stubbornness, anger, harsh realities and hard times settle in and people push themselves away from those that really care what you get is a disjointed tree that once held some strong branches each with its own special memories now shattered, torn from the very heart of the tree where it once stood tall.
John and Alice McCarthy met at a special dance and have never stopped dancing since they set eyes on each other. Life was good at first and they were blessed with a son, Hank that they both adored. But, Hank’s perception of his father was not what we see as we meet John at the start of this novel. Time has passed, words have been said and the harsh feelings seemed to be settled within Hank and cannot be released. John’s life on his farm has always centered on Alice. Hank never felt that his father really needed him for anything and when he met Elle he did not realize that was the best day of his life. Foundations are the cement that keeps buildings in place, trees from falling, and families from crumbling. But, when the foundation begins to wear away and the limbs blow in different directions what you get is a tree with broken branches each trying to repair its damage, each trying to rebuild its original frame and hopefully restoring its glory.
Memories are precious except when they begin to fade within the recess of your mind. The story opens in a heartfelt and heart wrenching way with one woman’s disjointed thoughts, memories and life being replayed within what is left of her mind as she drifts slowly away. Alzheimer’s is a death sentence for the poor victim whose mind it decides to invade and destroy. Slowly, methodically and carefully it wears away at the person’s brain cells until what is left is nothing. Causing the loss of brain tissue and cell death in the person with this disease anyone looking within the brain of the person would see plagues, made up of fragments of beta-amyloid protein and tangles comprised of dead and dying neurons which become twisted and collage when tau. A normal brain protein becomes abnormal. How long before the end varies as I know because my mom lived with this illness for ten years. Some people live with it on the average for 8 years and some over 20. There is no cure for this illness and no real test to predict who will get it. Researchers have not found anything to prevent or permanently stop it as yet. Alice McCarthy was diagnosed with this dreaded illness and although John is doing his best along with his daughter-in-law to care for her his family is what he needs at this time and his hopes for reunite them would make whatever time Alice has left more meaningful for her, him and hopefully rebuild the foundation that is tilting on that very tall tree.
Hearing the voices of each character we get to understand their feelings, grief, desires, successes and failures. John’s life centered on Alice and his goal was to provide for her and his young son, Hank. But, things changed, feelings set aside and they drifted apart. Although Hank still lives on the farm he and his father are live many world’s apart. Part hurts; feelings and stubbornness within Hank caused him to become cold, hard, unhappy and bitter. Without Elle, he would probably spend more of his days in a drunken stupor. As Hank contemplates his life and reflects on his three children little does he know that the foundations of their lives have crumbled and that they are finding their way home to hopefully repair more than just their broken hearts. Someone betrayed Evan, a writer he thought he could trust. Tara, his twin sister, decided to live in New York and soon became disillusioned, drug dependent and believed in one man that would turn against her when she revealed something that he did not want to hear. George, a decorated soldier, received the medal of valor and turned it down for reasons that most would disagree with yet, his conscience could not ignore what he felt was right. Three broken branches each needing repair and each about to find its way home to as they say to the homestead hopefully to find even more.
The Rocking Chair is the story of one woman named Alice who gave her life for her family only to wind up living alone within the recesses of her mind surrounded by her past, not able to relate to the present and little time left in the future. Author Steven Manchester brings to light what happens when someone is struck with Alzheimer’s, how it affects the family, how one man deals with helping his wife live out the rest of her time with dignity and how remembering the past will help him embrace the present.
Some of us have a favorite place to sit, contemplate and unwind. As John places Alice on his lap one more time her final breath is taken and she leaves this world to join G-d in his. But, this is not just a story about Alice it is much more as we learn more about Tara, Evan, Elle, Hank, John and George each having to come face to face with their own demons, their own conflicts and hopefully resolving, forgiving those that have hurt them and moving ahead before it’s too late. As John is determined to hear what Alice tried to convey to him at her funeral, he makes the first move to mend what he can and help his grandchildren find peace and a better place in this world. But, what about Hank, just why does he resent and hate his father as the author shares his story with readers you will find yourself with tears rolling down your eyes and understanding his pain but hoping he will let it go.
Imagine a quilt each with its own special squares each square telling its own story. One that would take us back to when John and Alice met and their life together and that special rocking chair where his family would gather round to hear his stories. Another square for Hank, his early years, his memories of growing up, the fire that caused him to leave home and the one thing that might mend his heart. Evan and George share a square as Evan has to come to grips with losing the one person he thought was the love of his life only to find his way back home, hear his grandfather’s words and learn to move on. George learns forgiveness in another way and the end result for him would hopefully grant him so peace and understanding of something that has haunted him for too long. Tara whose world is centers around drugs, alcohol and bad decisions has her own special square that is filled with her past, her mistakes and hopefully a renewed start if she decides to get some help. Elle deserves her own square as she is more like the glue that keeps it all together and the one person who sees every situation for what it really is. But, can she awaken Hank and bring him back to the present and out of the past in order to focus on a better future? One final square for precious Lila: the first of a new generation.
When the story draws to a close make sure you have plenty of tissues. One man whose goal was to mend as many hearts, fix as many problems and prove that love, forgiveness, hope and faith can bring the branches of this tree back to their original form and hopefully rebuild that foundation so the trunk does not tip over anymore. Alzheimer’s cannot be cured. “Family is the foundation for Everything.” Never let time pass between visits, call those that matter and tell them, never let hate, anger and the past take away the time that you have in the future. Read the beautiful poem the last page: Evan McCarthy: the rocking chair as he hoped to fulfill his goal and write that book he promised his grandfather he would write to be the voice of so many whose lives and voices would otherwise be silenced. As Evan finds his way to becoming a writer what about Tara, George, Hank and Elle? Read the Rocking Chair, hear John’s voice tell his stories, listen to Alice’s laugh and create your own dreams. This is a heartfelt story that teaches everyone the importance of so many issues that the author has brought to light and I have spotlighted in this review. Author Steven Manchester’s research into Alzheimer’s, his understanding of what happens when someone needs help with addictions and family counseling brings all of these issues and much more to light in this outstanding book.
This book gets FIVE SPECIAL ROCKING CHAIRS
Fran Lewis: reviewer
John, Alice, Elle and Hank, George , Tara and Evan and one special one for Lila and the first one for our author: Steven Manchester