Monday, November 30, 2015

Rocking Chair Marathon

It was the summer of 1972, in Jackson, Tennessee. I was part of the pizza-making team at Village Inn Pizza Parlor. Casey Jones Museum & Old Country Store (then located on the corner of Airways Boulevard and the Hwy 45 Bypass) invited all the businesses in town to send a representative to their store for a Rocking Chair Marathon.
It was a big deal and people all over town were talking about it. The marathon winner would take home big prizes like a new washer and dryer from a local appliance store. The winning business would get plenty of free advertising for having an employee who could sit and rock for longer than anyone else in Jackson. I volunteered to represent our team. Mr. Kilburn, the store’s owner, was as enthusiastic as I was. I wanted to win that washer-dryer. I was tired of taking baskets of dirty clothes to the laundromat. Mr. Kilburn wanted to sell more pizzas. We high-fived each other and agreed to win this challenge!
There was carnival excitement on Saturday morning as the rocking chairs were lined up, decorated and put into motion by happy competitors. I was confident in my paisley halter-top and cut-off blue jeans. A baby sat in a tiny rocker in front of me. She was rocking for an infant apparel business. An elderly woman rocked beside me, representing the Senior Centers in town. Helium balloons floated over our heads. Cotton candy and corn dogs were consumed by the crowds as they walked along, looking at us in our rocking chairs. High school bands marched by, helping us all to rock with a shared beat. Back and forth. Back and forth. Grinning and waving. “Make us proud!” Mr. Kilburn said as he fastened the Village Inn logo to the back of my chair.
The sun went down and the crowd went home. As the air grew cooler, I realized I was sunburned from the top of my head to the top of my bare feet. I kept rocking. There were volunteers stationed around the lot, making sure the chairs kept moving. To stop rocking was to be disqualified. We all had food and drink at our sides, gifts left by our friends and supporters. Porta-potties were there for our convenience and we were given timed breaks to use them. I watched as my competitors diminished in number. The stillness of the long, dark hours made staying awake too much of a challenge. Those who snored attracted the attention of the volunteers, who kindly informed the sleeping beauties that they were out of the marathon.
The sun came up and beamed brightly on my burned skin. Mr. Kilburn came by and asked me, “What can I bring you for breakfast?” I wanted donuts and coffee. He raced off to get it. I was glad to be surrounded by music, laughter and onlookers as people stopped by on their way to church and after Sunday dinner. We rocked. Back and forth. Back and forth. Just before the sun went down that evening, I stood to take a bathroom break and I had no idea which way to go. A volunteer took me by the hand and led me to the door of the porta-potty. I needed his help, again, when I returned to my rocking chair. The disorientation was unnerving but I was rocking. I was going to win that washer-dryer and I was going to make Mr. Kilburn feel proud! I stopped going to the porta-potty and just peed my pants after that. I smelled badly, but I kept rocking.
The number of competitors was down to twelve as darkness settled in on Sunday  night. The Old Country Store staff had not expected the marathon to extend into the work week. Cub Scouts were enlisted to help. The little boys had rulers and they were using them to measure the distance of our rocking back and forth. We had to rock six inches in order to remain in the marathon. At about 3:00 on Monday morning, I was still rocking when I looked over my shoulder and saw what appeared to be an evil dwarf coming toward me, aiming a pistol at my head. I flung my arm out and swatted hard at the gun. The Cub Scout’s ruler went flying through the air and I came to my senses briefly, enough to mutter a garbled apology to the boy who was cautiously reaching for his blue and gold cap at my feet.
Just before Mr. Kilburn came by and asked what I wanted for breakfast, I got it all figured out. This was a conspiracy born from an alliance between Rev. Billy Graham and President Nixon. Those men were passengers in the helicopter that kept circling overhead and they were watching us, taking pictures and laughing about how foolish we were. This marathon was their idea! They were trying to prove, for some reason, that people in Jackson, Tennessee were utter fools. We would sit and rock night and day, through sun and rain, just to win some household appliances! Once I figured that out, I was wide awake and energized by my fury! Mr. Kilburn seemed unaware of what was going on as he cheerily ran to my side and took my breakfast order. I decided he had lived in Jackson, Tennessee for far too long!
That's when my mind left me. I don't know where it went exactly, maybe chasing after Mr. Kilburn and my breakfast order. I stood up. I raised my arms up over my head and started walking. “Where are you going?” One of my co-workers was there by my side.
“I’m going to find a microphone so I can tell everybody what’s going on here!” I shouted. “We are making fools out of ourselves! This is a bad joke on all of us!”
One of the pizza makers got me into a car and took me home. A girl friend ran the tub full of hot water so I could sit and soak before I got into bed. A neighbor woman came to the door and hollered through the screen, “Was Elaine the winner in the rocking chair marathon?”
“No, she was not!" I sat up in the tub and yelled from the bathroom. "And, whatever you do, don’t vote Republican in the next election!”
Then I slept. I slept for sixteen hours and when I woke up, I read in the Jackson Sun about the marathon winner. She worked for a bank and she rocked until 7:00 on Tuesday morning. I don’t remember her name. I imagine she is still  enjoying that washer-dryer and I suspect there are autographed pictures of Billy Graham and Richard Nixon hanging on the wall above them.
Mr. Kilburn was happy that Village Inn had been represented. I was happy that my mind went back to normal, back to what "normal" is for me. I had enough sense to find my way to the laundromat with my baskets of dirty clothes. I didn't win the marathon but I learned to respect the power of sun-block , hydration and a good night's sleep.

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