My brother lives in the country, in an old farmhouse built in 1833. Original, wide-plank wood floors run throughout the house, and the kitchen displays a fireplace I can stand up inside at my full height. At 5’2″, that’s not a huge accomplishment, but it gives you some idea of the scale. Every window in his home offers a view worth capturing–old, paint-chipped barns, stone outhouses, tree-lined country lanes, and corn fields for acres and acres. I have a serious case of old-house envy.
When my sister-in-law gave us a tour of the house, she saved the best for last. We click-clacked up the attic steps, and after warning us that a snake lived up there (Help me Jesus, she wasn’t kidding. A snake skin lay swept into a pile of dust in the corner. This was not the best part), she shut the attic door behind us. While my husband looked for something with which to mimic a snake and frighten me, and I looked for another exit, she pointed to the back of the closed door. Scripted in three shades of paint, and then in black sharpie, were the names and dates of the various people who had a hand in painting the farmhouse over the years. Nicholas Peters 1834. W. Boyd 1886. GWB 1905. Then a gap of 99 years before a long list of modern names written in sharpie. My brother and sister-in-law will add their own names to the back of the door soon. Perhaps another family will add their own signatures, nine or 99 years later.
We gathered at my brother’s–all eight adults and ten kids of us–to celebrate my mom’s 65th birthday. There was pizza and a pink cake and little ones running around with soaked pant legs from creek wading. We didn’t have piles of gifts or scrap books of memories to share. We didn’t even sit around and say nice things about my mother (which in hindsight, sounds a bit anticlimactic). Instead, we sat around and ate together and shared ticking minutes, which stretched into autumn hours. I think it was everything my mother ever wanted.
Spending time together as a family reminded me of all the names painted across my life. All the people who made a difference, who made me who I am. They leave a signature behind, and sometimes they leave a soft imprint and sometimes they leave scars too, but their names have significance and a lasting effect on the life I’m building.
My mom wrote her name across my life before anyone else. CLH 1975. Carefully crafted in permanent ink, she wrote across the foundation, making beautiful the rooms she tended, molding me into something a little more like her, a little more lovely for her having been there.