DAY 4: Once you’ve decided on the piece of your past you want to focus on, tell its story. Take a moment to describe the object, so we can get a picture of it in our minds, and then write about it. What were the circumstances surrounding your receipt of this object? Who gave it to you? Did it belong to someone else before you? What does this item mean to you? Where do you keep it? Is it tucked away in a safe place or on display in your home?
MY REPLY: My piece from the past is young compared to other belongings, but it’s still a priceless possession. It’s an 8×10, black marble looking frame with a golden internal edges. Since I received it as a Christmas gift from my father it has hung on my living room. It makes me happy each time I pause before it. The frame contains hand drawn scenes from my father’s three most important homes – two from boyhood and the first home he and my mom ever purchased. The homes are each drawn on white, horizontal 3×5 index cards.
The first card, located at the top left, features the family farm in Lake Odessa, Michigan. It was his boyhood summer home where he and his three brothers lived with their aunt and uncle. I, too, spent many summer vacations on this same farm. I loved its narrow staircase leading to the second floor, the glassed in coffee table with hinged lid that displayed an intricate collection of my great great aunt’s sewing buttons and the kitchen counters laden with drying homemade pasta cut into perfect fettucine-sized noodles. While the farm ignites good times in my mind, I was deathly afraid of the second floor bedroom where we usually slept when we visited. This is because there was a door from the bedroom to the outside of the house. If I had ever sleep walked or opened that door I would have fallen 10 feet below and probably would have been no more.
“The farm,” as it is affectionately known, was built with a roofed, long, wooden front porch. This roof had been what you would have stepped on if you had opened the second floor door. But unfortunately, as wood deteriorates over time, both parts had to be torn down. The door was “off limits” to us kids. And rightly so. Locked but accessible, I remember realizing it would mean certain death if I had opened it and stepped out into nothingness. I guess the fact that I’m writing about it today shows you I obeyed.
The middle index card features my father’s boyhood home in Battle Creek, Michigan. Its detached one-car garage in back, originally housed my grandfather’s 1936 black Chevrolet and then later his new 1947 red International pickup truck.
Its backyard, unseen, contained a garden and a dog pen. According to dad, it also was home to many dog burial plots as well.
With three brothers and one bathroom you can imagine the line on the first floor! A master bedroom and kitchen were also there. The second floor contained two bedrooms – one shared by the two oldest brothers and another shared by dad and the youngest brother. Each bedroom had a door that accessed the attic at opposite ends of the house. At one point, an older brother used the area for a photography dark room. My dad and his little brother covered their attic area floor with cardboard thereby having a prime play area full of Army men. The areas had electrical lighting as well.
A Coal furnace and small water heater were in the basement and a coal truck made deliveries through a window chute, which led to a coal bin below.
The bottom sketch features the first new home my parents ever bought. After peeking in its windows on a Sunday and discovering an uncarpeted slab, dad called the builder who took care of it the next day so we could move in. It snowed in Tallahassee, FL on that day in 1975, the middle of my 7th grade year. Nixon was president. The interest rate on their mortgage was 4.75%.
Aside from these drawings and their historical nature, index cards are synonymous with my dad. He’s used them for years in his home office. He uses them to write notes and lists. I’ve seen him use them as bookmarks. He reads the Christmas story from the book of Luke in the Bible and then passes around a basket of them with ink pens prior to opening gifts so we can record the gifts we received and who gave them. This paperwork is very important – especially when writing thank you notes.
Dad’s doodles and sketches are pictures into our past. I’m so very thankful these three framed sketches hang in my home today.