The Worth of Things
The house was old and unpainted, with high ceilings and dim lights that dangled from long cords. In winter, cold air snaked its way through cracks in the wooden floor and slithered in and out of every corner. A potbellied stove, fueled by coal, sat in a front room.
Icy mornings caused children to move as close to the heat as possible. Long ago, and yet the scene remains clear: Brothers and sisters, standing in the familiar circle of family.
A thousand mornings and more have passed. The circle was broken; the coals from the stove have long turned to ashes and back to the earth.
It matters that the house served its purpose well. It matters that the house was a part of the history of all the families who lived there.
Now hidden behind a line of trees and bushes, the home is barely visible to those who pass along the busy highway nearby. Neither the well nor the fig bush, the pasture or old barns can be seen, even if they still exist.
Someday, the house will be nothing more than a pile of rubble. Perhaps the chimneys will withstand the fall and mark the spot where someone once lived and worked and played, and where, before the church was built down the road, people gathered to worship and sing and pray.
I have learned, when driving by the house, to direct my gaze straight ahead. I don’t want to scan the fields beyond for a father plowing or a mother washing clothes in a big black iron pot. I don’t want to look, and not find, my brothers and sisters playing in the yard. I want to remember the house as having life, not forlorn, abandoned, and crumbling.
The roof that sheltered children and parents through cold and wind and rain, is caving in. There are no longer any visible pathways leading to the woods. The red gullies, the stream, and the quicksand all lie hidden from view.
There will never be another Sunday dinner upon the table, nor hymns sung around the old upright piano in the living room. There will be no opening or shutting of doors with visitors coming in or going out. Nor will there be other moments to reclaim, except in the memory of those who lived there long ago. History.
We arrive at that stage of life where the mind insists upon our acknowledging the true worth of what may seem ordinary things. So much was of greater importance than we may have recognized.
History. It’s all around us. Speaking and waiting to speak.
Old homes, vacant schoolhouses, even abandoned city buildings are never truly empty. The walls, floors, and ceilings are embedded with whispers of the past and of the future. We give voice to these same old homes and buildings by honoring their presence, by preserving those that served us so well. The voice of History has much to say.
Let it be heard.
© Copyright 2010 Gloria Dahl