The rocking-chair debate rolls on

It is neither my desire nor my intention to promote contention, so I make it clear I am but asking some questions, and not at all belligerent about the rocking chair.

The dates of Benjamin Franklin are 1706 to 1790, and the dates of Jacques Cartier are 1491 to l557. And, I ask, who did invent the rocking chair? I have my papers to operate a rocking chair, issued by the Sittin', Starin' and Rockin' Association. If I remember rightly, this document was issued as an advertising gimmick of the White Castle hamburger people and is good for wind and steam in all waters until revoked.

I sail daily, have never had an accident, and prefer the Boston version with two fluffy pillows and my feet up on a southeasterly hassock. My doubts about the rocker's inventor surged recently when Valdore Benoit, a longtime friend, was telling about the great danger involved in a creeping chaise bascule if it gets away from you and you keep a cat. His grandpre, he said, had a creeping rocker, and kept a cat.

A creeper is a rocking chair that travels as you rock, because of some fault in the balance of the device. You may begin over by the sink, but you will unknowingly hitch along, bit by bit, a small distance each time, until you are over by the stove. With a creeper, a gentleman in transit will then stand up, move his conveyance back to position No. 1, and begin again.

The cat is an unsuspecting participant and merits our attention.

A tail is a cat's dearest possession, and a cat will accordingly find a public place in the kitchen where he can assume a reclining posture and place his tail in extended direction where all may admire. He (or she) will doze in delirious abandon without cark or care, happy and content.

It was, Valdore Benoit told me, a family responsibility in his boyhood homestead to keep on this matter, and whenever his grandfather rocked toward the cat, somebody had to jump up and intervene before Grandpre rocked on the cat's tail. Previous experience had taught the family that this was not appreciated by the cat, who felt his tail deserved respect. So the Benoit cat would be pushed bodily aside in the nick of time, or Grandpre would be turned about to creep back to try again. Upon achieving this rescue, the Benoit family would heave a sigh of relief and vow again that if they could get the old man out of his rocker long enough they'd fix the creeping.

I mentioned Jacques Cartier. He was a navigator and explorer who discovered the St. Lawrence River and left us the first descriptions of that region, its birds and animals, and brought the first French colons to Canada. Before St. Augustine, he had a truck-shack (trading post) at Tadoussac, at the confluence of the Saguenay and the St. Lawrence where, I betcha, he had a rocking chair where he could lift his feet up and take a nap by the fire. I believe the French Canadians introduced the rocking chair into the State of Maine quite some time before Benjamin Franklin, who invented the rocking chair, was born in Boston.

We know the French were in Maine before the English came. We've been told the word "Yankee" derives from the Indian's attempt to say "English." Fiddlesticks. The word "Yankee" derives from the way the Indians heard the Frenchmen say "Anglais." And as time ran along, the original Acadian French were dispersed (see "Evangeline"). While many went to Louisiana, some settled up in Maine's St. John River Valley (which includes some of Canada), and became an ethnic group quite apart from the inhabitants of Quebec. Today, one-third of all Maine people have French and French-Canadian ancestors. Around Old Orchard Beach, where folks from Quebec love to vacation, the stores all have little signs saying, "French Spoken Here."

Then, when Maine's forests began to be harvested, men from Quebec flocked down to become choppers, teamsters, and cooks. In still another migration. others came to work in our cotton mills. We don't hear much Spanish and other immigrant languages in Maine, but h'on top Fort Kent, too-le-monde parles French.

It became well known in Maine, as time ran along, that the first thing a Frenchman does after he arrives is to saw out a pair of ronneurs and attach them to a straight-backed kitchen chair so he can rock. A rocking chair on the front porch and a rocking lawn chair under a tree.

Now, in a museum in France I saw a rocking chair dating from the Middle Ages. It had a dummy in it, a farmerish type with a most contented smile, feet up and all, and I stood there and thought about Benjamin Franklin and how he invented the rocking chair maybe 500 years later. Did Franklin, as our ambassador to France, merely see a rocking chair in France and bring one home so Poor Richard could put up his feet?

Now, at Bonaventure, coming back from a tour of the Gasp, you may pause and see a museum rocking chair that could well have been that of Monsieur Cartier, who rather much brought France to Canada. Is it asking too much to suppose that he brought his chaise bascule with him so he could sit and rock and stare and threaten the cat?

I've asked Valdore Benoit what he thinks of my hypothesis, and he is sitting and rocking on it.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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