Our porch swing gave up the ghost over the weekend. I like to think it had a long and happy life. Once, it must have graced someone’s porch up county for a decade or two before my wife eyed it in a little antique shop nearly eight years ago. Despite its shabby chic condition, it was love at first sight; the only problem was the shop was closed. I stole away the next day and bought it to surprise her. When I returned home with it, you would have thought I had brought her the holy grail.
That swing was the little grace note that floated above the score of our porch and animated it. On spring evenings, summer days, or autumn mornings; with a good book, a cup of coffee, or a glass of wine; that sweet little swing held my wife in the palm of its gentle hand. Her feet just brushed the floor as she read or needlepointed, talked on her phone, or engaged a passerby in light conversation. It kept her secrets, comforted her pain, and amplified her laughter. She might share it with a friend for a moment or two, but make no mistake: it was her realm. No one else ever looked quite right there.
It was a common enough piece of porch furniture: all slats and screws and eye hooks and chains with a worn, grey patina and an occasional little squeak that a drop of WD40 would silence like morning fog. Over the years, it had seen a few close calls but with yet another infusion of cash and careful attention from handy friends, it would recover and begin again thanks to some new hardware or brace or fresh coat of paint. Like an old grandfather clock, it marked the hours of our days and the seasons of our years so when the deathblow finally came with a loud crack under the bottom of a large friend last Friday evening, time came to a crashing stop. The next morning in better light, a cursory examination revealed the deadly fault. I called the swing doctor and held my breath.
He came right away to examine the patient. He probed and poked and scowled. Like the surgeon who trudges down the dim hospital hallway with bad news for the waiting family, he shook his head. “I could fix it…again,” he said, “but the wood’s all soft and rotted. I think it’s time for a new swing.” My wife looked at me. I looked at the swing doctor. “You sure?” I said. He just nodded.
Life, as always, must go on. We mourned then we measured and set out on a Saturday pilgrimage. At our first stop, there was a potential candidate but the color wasn’t right and then another choice but the shape was all wrong. We weren’t going to settle for just any old swing; we were determined to find the perfect new swing. It was a beautiful September day and neither my wife nor I could contemplate her not having a new perch by nightfall. “Call Backyard Billie,” I suggested.
You may not know Backyard Billie. It’s not a person, it’s a place, the Shangri-la of outdoor furniture. It may not have much in the way of antique charm, but it has nearly everything else: Adirondack chairs, patio sets, a chaise for lounging by the pool, if you happen to have a pool. If there were a new porch swing anywhere in the nearby vicinity—and not all that ‘nearby,’ mind you—Backyard Billie is where it would be. My wife called and explained the object of our desire. I just listened. “You do?” she said into the phone, hope surging back into her voice like the tide. “Can you text me a picture?” We waited several minutes. Her phone dinged. “Let’s go!” she said.
We had already begun to consider our two options: wood was less expensive but resin lasts forever and with minimal maintenance, to boot. No garish colors, just basic white. Height of back and depth of seat were important factors: it had to fit her like comfortable shoes. That’s a tall order for a short girl but we were optimistic. We had seen a candle burning in the darkness.
I won’t bore you with the details. Or with the cost. The most important news is that we have a new swing, one that will likely outlast us and the probably the next generation, too. Even the swing doctor—a wood purist—admired it. It fills the old space perfectly. It gleams white; even the new chains glisten. Its most important feature, however, is that it looks and feels like it was built for a queen, my queen, the queen of the front porch.
We gently set the old swing, chains and all, on the curb with a sign saying “Free to a good home.” By morning, it was gone.
The swing is dead. Long live the swing!
I’ll be right back.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015. A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” was released in June 2018. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com