Letter from Home “Carrying On Traditions” 5/30/21

The message sent to me was short, perfectly constructed, and that it came from a child’s perspective made it totally honest.

My daughter asked the other day if we could move into your folks’ house and make it happy again?

Well, that made for a misty eye moment over the iPad.

That note from a local person in Hancock, the town where I grew up, was unexpected, but truly made a mark on me. That it landed on Memorial Day weekend, a holiday that over the years my dad would have ensured the lawn was perfectly mowed and mom making sure the blooms from Mother Day flowers were showing at their best, with the long line of rocks extending along the drive to the road trimmed and free of grass. The photo below is a view of the type of care given to the home on a continuous basis.

James and I were back home this past week to place flowers on the graves of relatives, though the cold rain and 36 degrees made it seem we not only traveled northwards but backward on the calendar, too. And we made the trek in shorts!

While nothing ever stays the same, as we read about only a couple weeks ago with one of the most famous rock formations in the Galapagos Islands giving way to nature, I subscribe to a way of living that honors the past. Some might call it overly nostalgic, others downright corny. While I get the fact that time moves on and change is a constant condition of life, I hold to a preserving of the past so that memories and those who made them stay ‘alive’.

I am not alone in this regard as a Republican friend of mine only this week was asking if anyone knew who can spray paint a classic old tractor from the days of his childhood. The tractor is from the 1950s.

Part of that shaping with my DNA in this regard comes from my love of history, and deep appreciation for not only the events of the past, but the people who made the events play out over time. With that attitude I have advocated, and succeeded with a local alder, to have an ordinance passed to protect the carriage steps in the historic Madison neighborhood where I live.

Pictured here is the reason I dived into this cause.

These steps were placed for the convenience of ladies as they exited the carriages back in the time the old Victorian homes were first constructed and lived in.  I fell in love with these at first glance as they conjured up all the grandeur of days gone by.   Madison is blessed to have these physical reminders of our past.   With some verve and a sense of purpose, I worked with our local alder and city council to make sure that no further damage will ever again be allowed to happen to these steps in our city.   

But that is not where I stopped. Nor James.

That same intensity of purpose has been used to ensure our home will have the care and respect which it deserves.  After all, it will be here long after we am gone.  I want others to feel and know it as we do, but that only happens with our caring for it now.

Over the years I have heard many talk about their home as an investment.  I fully grasp the financial grounding for such views. With owning a three-story Victorian on the Madison isthmus I grasp, on one hand, that view. But I strongly differ substantially with such perspectives, on the other hand.

I grew up with parents who became homeowners after World War II.  The home they bought was not new, in fact, it was old and needed lots of work.  Over the years many projects were completed, including one that allowed for my brother and me to have a new bedroom off on the side of the house.  I have often joked that my parents were even smart enough to time our births (11 years apart) so there was never a question my brother and I would have to share that room.  He moved out on his own just as I was needing, for the first time, to upgrade my living space.

For all the years I grew up in the family home there was never, not once, any word spoken about what that improvement, or that addition, would do for the value of the house.  The value of any improvement was the day-to-day pleasures and conveniences it made for the family.  Nothing more, nothing less.

The family home where I grew up was not so different from all those in the community of my youth. Inside were the favorite places to tuck away to read, the family kitchen where everyone gathered no matter how many folks there were or how small the room might be, and the favorite window to watch the snow pile up or the rain to fall.  The home was a place to live and relax.  It was a place to ‘be’.

My love of history started in that home when I was a child. As a boy, I knew a small portion of the ‘back basement’ in my family home had been constructed prior to the Civil War.  It always had the coolest temperatures downstairs and it was where the root vegetables were stored for months on end.  I was sent there to bring back potatoes or beets or a fall squash for supper.

It was from that start that I grew to link not only events, but people into the larger quilt of history. That 1853 portion of the ‘back’ basement meant something to me.  My dad’s great-grandparents, the Wood Family, built the house.  Some of the extended family fought in the Civil War, with one dying at the most horrific Andersonville prison camp.

Pictured below is that old portion of the basement being connected with for the last time in 2011.

As the cold rain bounced and slid off our Ranger hats this past week I thought back to the days when my parents always wanted whoever passed by to see the pride they had for their home. As I shivered in the cold I thought about how from that upbringing has morphed into the present with our Madison lawn and gardens now getting ‘the treatment’.  Like my growing up years the lawn gets a weekly mowing, trimming, while the sidewalks get twice a year edging. James is an expert at clearing away weeds and creating a ‘trough’ around each flower bed.

The values of the past should live on, and in so doing the voices of those from the days gone by can still resonate.

And so it goes.