(when I run out of words, I write)
“That night I dream of my fathers out of Bohemia
filling the blue fields of fresh and generous Ohio
with leaves and vines and orchards.”
(from “The Black Walnut Tree” by Mary Oliver)
Black Walnut stands were still plentiful, thick and tall in the still-to-be-cleared forests of 19th Century eastern Ohio. As farms were established and as the country settled into a time of renewed movement westward, the Walnut trees were felled, milled, and shaped into the realized dreams of those seeking place, community, and permanence.
The Walnut planks- deep chocolate brown become golden- were wrapped around the interior junctures of ceilings and walls, walls and floors. Grooved and rounded, the crafted wood became the frames of windows and doorways. Lathed, they became the bannisters and rails of stairways. Steps, cupboards, thresholds: all were the finishing grammar, the Walnut-brown punctuation of a well-built, well-founded, well-appointed home.
When our family arrived in the Lower/Firestone home, it had been five years empty. Seventy-three years from its being cut and carpentered from the surrounding woods, the grand old house had been abandoned by the elders for the convenience of living in town on Elm Street, and by the young for the seeking of fortune in California. Filled with the ephemera and left-behind effects of a once-vibrant, socially active and commercially successful family, and in preparation for our family’s moving in, piles of papers were boxed and discarded, the house was mopped and dusted, the walls were painted (sky blue downstairs, yellow kitchen, beige upstairs), five of the six fireplaces were closed off, and the hulking half century-old coal furnace was cleaned.
The night we moved into the house, in the fall of ’53, I wore red socks to bed. The room was very big- the ceilings were high, there were a lot of windows, so much dark wood, a fireplace on the other side of the room, and I was on the second floor. And there were sounds. Later, I would come to know the wall-creaking and roof-scampering sounds as the friendly noises of an old friend. But on that first night they were the stuff of a child’s terror, and I opened my mouth and cried out for..Mommy, Mommy!
I remember that first night; I was four. I would remember much much else in this place in the ensuing fifty years. The house is always a character, a participant in those memories. The house became a standard established in childhood by which I’ve measured every place I’ve lived since then, and there have been many places, and perhaps that is why. I left that home in 1971 but visited often, with one, two, then three kids. And then, in 1999, Dad was gone. We packed up and moved Mom out in 2004. The next day, the home we had there was a home no more. Denny and I buried mementos of ourselves and of Mom and Dad in the front yard the night before we closed and locked the back door for a final time. It was for both of us an act not of worship, but of inexpressible thanksgiving. Which may, as I think about it now, be the substance of worship.
The mementoes are still there, buried deeply in a metal Chock-Full-of-Nuts coffee can which had served for decades as the back porch house key hiding place. They are worthless; they are invaluable. If anyone ever finds them, may they have some inkling how this place was loved.
Because of what I do in my profession, I must often lead people into, be with them, and stay with them through times of grieving. What follows is how I am dealing with my own grief over the death of this dear friend. I write about times and memories which transcend specific experiences and which have been (for me) transformative. If people read over my shoulder as I write these things, that’s OK, but it’s not why I write them. I write things like those that follow to stay sane, to keep from being emotionally crushed by my own grief as it has been added to empathetically by the grieving of others.
These then are some memories (true things but shaped by my own synaptic responses) of the Lower/Firestone house on Lipply Road, Columbiana, Ohio, during the last half of the 20th Century. I will be dreaming (out loud, not in a particular order) “of my fathers out of Bohemia filling the blue fields of fresh and generous Ohio with leaves and vines and orchards.”
(more to come)