The most effective way to destroy people is to deny
and obliterate their own understanding of their history.
- George Orwell
He notices them in the city, old vacant houses, bearing the form of the formerly beautiful. He notices them in the country, old empty barns, the houses of which watched over them, also long abandoned. The barns drew him the most, some mystery there in their silent lofts, where among the beams and rough-hewn boards, life from venerable times was lived according to venerable ways, never to be seen again.
There are many reasons such places are abandoned, foreclosure, death, yet they remain vacant, remain fallow, someones dreams perhaps tied up in probate or simply discarded, no one wishing to assume the burden of that which will take some care to make whole. He only stops to look, then drives down the road to home, an older place but kept in meticulous repair, the house warm, the walls adorned with only a few photos of the past, framed copies of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
A young woman walks out to the curb, where renters moving out next door left a few bags of trash. Laying next to them were two large pieces of cast iron cookware. She takes a closer look, both were high-end brands, neither purchased cheaply. Both looked unused but for the thick rust covering both. The house empty and staying that way, she picks them up and takes them home to examine and clean. Once the rust is removed, the pans oiled and properly seasoned, they look as if new, these pieces that should last a lifetime. Someone simply did not know how to care for what they had and casually discarded them.
So many things that go unnoticed until they are gone. Some lie barren, covered in days until they no longer shine, forgotten. Other things, capture the eye of someone, be it a house, a piece of machinery, a person, an entire manner of living, which for that one individual, possesses a life all of its own. It is that missing piece of our history, that forbidden apple whose taste could open up the pathway to heaven, or cast one from all that is accepted. Yet, they can not resist, like the fruit of the Tree in the Garden of Good and Evil, such things being fraught with the possibility of the undiscovered.
A man sits alone in a house that still shows the remains of the recent past amongst the modern updates,the 70's retro hunters blaze of orange touching some things like flame, shag carpeting stamped flat there in the trails of silent children. It is quiet now, two children and two wives preceding him in death, his remaining child flying in as often as she can, calling every night before he goes to sleep. The TV is off, the windows open, the curtains breathing in and out with the soft exhalation of evening. It is a night for memories or passages, those moment within us, that by our history, our remembrances, release us from the shadows, our soul freed there in that moment that makes certain silences more clear than any words that can be uttered.
In another home, that's seen a hundred years come and go, a young man in a blue button down shirt sits in a chair, surrounded by books and antiques. Each piece was carefully picked from the flotsam and jetsam of estate sales, carefully cleaned and placed in the room alone but for muscle and sweat. The room looks no different than if the time was a hundred years ago, but for a small flat screen TV, dusty in the corner. The safe holds a small collection of rare and unique firearms, some dating back to the Civil War.
Some people are born out of their due place, fate casting them too soon or too late, but they only look ahead, even as they bear a yearning for a place they knew not. On the shelf is a picture of a woman, not a young woman, except for the eyes, the blaze of her hair. He looks at the photo, tracing the leather of the spine of his book, with hands that remember.
There's other scars you can't see, the small bite shaped mark of a biopsy, the small shiny serrations on belly flesh, proud marks of the skin's burden as it carries another to life. Would she erase or airbrush them away if she could? No, she's descended from immigrants and warriors; for her, life is simply a battle fought, the scars simply marking the skirmishes won.
She is moving some boxes and hanging bags, military uniforms and gear, worn by grandfathers and beyond, men who are now only dust and courage. There is a new box to add to these, for which she must make room. She opens the box, carefully packed up just a week ago to be shipped, the uniform items carefully shrouded and laid to rest within. She touches the items, and even in their stillness, comes a moment of real and profound intimacy with the one who once wore them, unexpected and lasting, as is often our glimpse of truth. They will be carefully packed again to protect them, and stored with those uniforms of generations past. She leaves space on the shelf for another future box, for there will be one more, and probably soon.
At the bottom of the package, carefully wrapped in bubble wrap, in a lone toy soldier, that had been unearthed in the garden one Spring, years after the battle for world dominion with two flame hair children and their troops had ceased. The touch of its small battered form brought back the scent of the earth in their back yard, the shade of the apple tree that sheltered them, the warmth of the sun, times when they could ask Mom and Dad most anything and they'd tell them the truth.
With that remembrance, with the lessons of the past, we can live safer and smarter. We can make decisions based on what we learned the hard way, about the truth, about individuals, about intentions, those deceits and traps that lay like spider webs for the naive or the unwary.
So she continues to look, sometimes seeing the past in front of her, in pieces found years after they were laid there, the answers beneath her hands, under a mantle of dirt and time. She sees them sometimes late at night, out of the corner of her eye. Perhaps it's just fatigue, perhaps an awareness of more than these moments here, now but there at the edge of her vision, she senses those moving moments of lives that went before. People who valued freedom over power, truth over political correctness, people unafraid to ask "why" or "how". People just like her, full of fear and pride and arrogance, courage and love, the knowledge of suffering and foreshadowing of their own death, saying no to death, for generation after generation, knowing that can't stop it, but damned if they won't go out trying.
The items put away, she returns to a table of tools, a place to work and repair, form and craft, as she finds something soothing in fixing and finding answers in that which is broken, even as she restores its use.
The young man in the button down shirt picks up an old violin, worth more than all of his other possessions combined, even as appearance alone might label it, in unknowing eyes, as yard sale material. The notes reach out to the depths of the dwelling, penetrating the darkness, laden with the awe and enigma that can be borne on the strings of remembering men. From the shadows, a woman smiles.
Better they can preserve it, for what it was, those moments, those things that made them what they are. They can treat it all as something shameful, or they can speak or write of it, in a tone that would be a shout of triumph were the words on a keyboard capable of speech. They can live their lives, old before their time, for the burden of the past, or they can live sufficient, complete, desiring as the young do, not to be bound, but only to love, to query and scrutinize uncontested, left alone with their freedoms.
It is the future. It is the past. An elderly man sits in a chair, surrounded by books and antiques. The room has not changed in the last fifty years. On the shelf is a picture of a flame haired woman. He slowly rises and walks towards it, joints stiff with pain, his form cleaving the space she once passed through. He passes a shelf, a book bound with leather, an old revolver, a small vase, his glance touching what her eyes had lost. He picks up the photo and realizes that some things, even if not present, are never truly gone, fixed and held in the annealing ash that is our history.
As the night descends upon him unchecked, he stands and looks hard at everything.
L.B. Johnson (Brigid)