The title of this book hopefully drew the reader to it, pondering who is dancing with a chair and why. Before you know it, you are drawn into this series of heartwarming vignettes about living and growing up ‘on the land’ in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Each chapter elicits a deeper understanding and appreciation of author Sandra M. Rushing. Her autobiographical approach is very enjoyable, full of an old-time traditional upbringing, honest evaluations that may make you temporarily avert your eyes from the page, and a chance to laugh, albeit wryly, at familiar experiences and parental quirks. Her father was a Scotsman, with all that entails - erratic temper; deep, genuine bigheartedness; and an abiding love for the hardscrabble ground he farmed. Her mother’s Irish melancholy flavored the family’s beliefs and behavior, and her yearning for a life that might-have-been helps creates a vibrant and highly readable volume.
Rushing’s way with words is spiritually moving, and the essays feel timely to the present, although the period she writes about was after WWII. Although conveniences were few and work was hard, the family dynamics made it a home there at the historic Poor House Farm in Rockbridge County. The diversity of her parents’ viewpoints, and age difference (her father was 20 years older than her mother, who was 19 when she married the irascible Scot) made for a friction-laden childhood, and the balancing act required for the children of this tension-wracked family could not have always been easy.
Yet time has softened some memories and clarified others for Rushing, and her stories about her grandmothers and their influence upon the vulnerable young girl sound vaguely reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s tales of her own family energies. Sometimes profound, and sometimes startlingly funny, these stories are really an intelligent and emotional study of the evolution of a family and how each experience, good and bad, helps shape who we become as adults.
As an example, in chapter ten, “The Faces We Deserve?” Sandra speaks to the phenomenon of looking in the mirror and seeing your mother (or father) staring back at you. In her words:
What keeps us from redeeming our faces? Is it stored disappointment or guilt or old pieces of unresolved grief? Is it pain so deeply thrust within we do not even know we hold it? How powerfully moving that thought is – the outer presentations of our being, our faces, which may relay to the casual viewer something that we do not discern in ourselves.
She shares with the reader the personality-developing experience of living on a working farm, one whose reason for being is to feed them and allow them to be generous to the stranger who wanders by. Expressing her concern that modern society has created a “contemporary charade” of experiencing death, she writes about the experience of hog butchering and its relationship to understanding death in her life. Speaking to the “ritual and purpose of it,” she shows her appreciation in looking back at her childhood in providing for her these moments of clarity and acceptance.
Her expressions of developing skills, traits and abiding love for her roots encompasses such discussions as “crone-wisdom” and “patchwork Christmases.” Her chapter headings are evocative and well thought-out - you want to know what she means when she calls a chapter “An Echo of Unfettering” or “River-gazing with a Tattered Prophet.” She doesn’t address her adult self very often (she is an Ordained Minister in the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., who has lived in such varied places as North Dakota and Metro Washington, D.C., before returning to a piece of the land that once encompassed the Poor House Farm) but instead allows her childhood, teen years and young adulthood to speak. In doing so, she has created an interwoven tale of family and friends, survival and exploration, and the reader finishes the book with a sigh that is a mixture of enjoyment and disappointment that the reading is done.
Rushing has written other books; the latest was published in March of 2008, The Judas Legacy, a nonfiction work about the far-reaching “responsibility” of Judas using a Jungian perspective. However, this work, Dancing with a Kitchen Chair (which is fully explained within the text), allows the readers to join her in her journey to her past and to, perhaps, gain some understanding and awareness of their own past as well. Not a minor thing for a book of only 180 pages.