Note the little scrap of wallpaper visible in the background? One can often find little bits of history tucked in behind built-ins, moldings, or furniture too heavy to move.
I share with you a postcard with a New Year’s greeting — a greeting for a year that was new over 100 years ago. This colorful card was sent in 1909 to my grandfather from his cousin Violet Belz.
As a comparison, I can’t resist sharing the photograph below, showing the five members of the Thomas White family of Tylersport, Pennsylvania, with Cousin Violet visiting from Camden, New Jersey, taken in 1913. That’s 100 years ago. I wonder what they were thinking about on their 1913 New Year’s Eve Day?
In 100 years, I wonder how people looking back will remember us? And what they will remember us by now that our photos and writings are mostly ephemeral digitized data that may be largely inaccessible in 100 years. (Print out a few photos and write a message from 2013 that you can leave behind!)
Here’s to 2013 — I hope it’s a great year for all of us. Let’s continue to shift the perception of historic preservation from a narrow-minded effort to impede progress toward a more accurate, broader understanding of its benefits for community revitalization, economic development, neighborhood identity and so very much more.
You know those puzzles, where you are challenged to find as many things as you can that don’t fit? See how many you can spot that show the evolution of this house over time. And here’s a freebie — those new windows on first floor are just WRONG. Lots of little faux divided lights instead of just sticking with what’s in the rest of the house. They probably thought it was more “historic” that way. I think there needs to be a mascot for historic preservation, and his/her name should be Secretary Standard. And s/he would do a public service campaign doing actual case studies of when wooden windows are lovely and should be kept, and when wooden windows should be taken out and what they should be replaced with. Any artists out there that want to take a crack at creating “Secretary Standard”?
This brings to a close the “I Love Lucy [the Elephant] Memory Contest” that invited you to share memories of place and time. Thanks to all who entered for sharing your wonderful recollections. This was such fun, we might have to do it again next year.
Jeff Wood entered not once, but twice. If you want to read more, his novella “Groceries” is featured in Isotope Fiction. You can follow his work on Facebook at Clowncar Publishing.
I spent my first Father’s Day as an actual father in the Sand Dunes National Park with my wife and two newly adopted daughters, Shay and KK. Shay was four, KK two, and they had been with us for nearly a year. I am easily besotted by fatherhood, and so memories of the day are as bright as fireflies, as plentiful as dandelions.
Here is one.
KK had learned to smile perhaps a month before the trip. She had smiled before, many times, but always spontaneously; by “learned” I mean that she could control it now, turn it on by choice, return a smile from someone else. And so all weekend that is just what I did, I smiled at her–while building castles in the wet sand, walking in the bright water, eating hot dogs in the motel room that night–just to watch her return it. I was greedy for the dazzle of it, the effortless sunbeam of her face, shattering my fragile glass heart over and over and over again.
And his second entry:
My memory paints the sky as deep blue, sunny, cloudless. It was a summer day.
My friend Kyle and I and some other kid whose name I can’t recall were hunting for a feral cat in the fields outside the city limits of Ottumwa, Iowa. Kyle lived on a farm, and the cat had killed three of his baby chicks. He was going to cut off its tail, in revenge.
We found the cat after a long search. Kyle grabbed it tight, by the tail. The cat was wailing and clawing, but Kyle held fast. He pulled out his penknife and brought it toward the cat’s tail.
I screamed, “No!” Loudly. Kyle dropped his knife, let go of the cat’s tail, the cat ran off into the fields howling.
After a long moment I looked into Kyle’s eyes. I was expecting anger, or disdain, or perhaps no eye contact at all in response. But he met my eyes.
He looked relieved.
We both looked to the other kid, who had been standing behind us. He stepped forward. Kyle picked up his penknife, slipped it in his pocket, and together the three of us walked toward Kyle’s house, where his Mom had lunch waiting for us.
The Mill at Anselma, a National Historic Landmark
Chester County, Pennsylvania
It’s time for candy canes and twinkle lights.
And if you’re feeling a bit chilly, the recollection below of a summer childhood will warm your heart and soul. Fireflies are the twinkle lights of the summertime. (If you missed the other stories in the Lucy [the Elephant] Memory Contest, you can start catching up here.)
The Fall of the Summer King
by Paul Nettles
Once upon a time.
But this isn’t a fairy tale. This is real life. This all happened in a real place, to a real little boy who was not the handsomest of all, was not a prince, not even a squire, and he didn’t have companions with fey powers that were perfectly suited to his need to win the fair princess’ hand.
No one ever gave him three tasks, each harder than the last, in order to win unimaginable riches.
He did have a kingdom he could visit, though. Not a kingdom with a king who wore a gold crown, but a king who wore a black felt fedora, and old, faded slacks and button-down white cotton shirts. His queen wasn’t the most beautiful woman in the world, but she ruled her kingdom with a strong and fair hand alongside the king, whom she loved very much. Together they raised four boys who were kings in their own right, kings without titles or fiefs who rode out in the mornings with the dogs and hunted all day, then came home at night and brought wild game they had caught, and together they prayed and sang songs with the king and queen.
Those young men grew up into men, and claimed lands and took what power was in their hearts to hold. They had children, boys and girls of their own. None of the children were cursed by witches who weren’t invited to the christening. None of them were locked in tall towers and forced to spin hay into gold, nor were they in any way involved with magic kettles, frogs down wells or ogres who lived in castles placed conveniently right up the road.
Not that I know of.
I do know about one little boy, however. A son of one of the four young kings. He loved the kingdom with all his heart. It was far, far away from his own home, and it was magical in its own way, heavy with age and memory and subtle differences. It had pecan trees like his own home but these were old, and the nuts were shaped differently. It had pine trees like his own home, but the ones in the kingdom were taller, so much thicker, and girt the kingdom like a fortress wall. His mind peopled the forest wall with giants and rocs and serpents of immense size, but those were just the imaginings of a young, impressionable, fantasy-prone young boy. There were no giants and no rocs and the serpents that lived in the lake and the little tiny pond were of the regular variety. The kingdom had creeks, beautiful clear running streams that leaped and burbled over stones like they could speak, and all the prince had at his home was bayous, which were brown and muddy and smelled like rotten mud and dead fish.
The kingdom had something that the little boy’s home didn’t have, however. It had fireflies. At the little boy’s home were huge rocs, giant metal flying creatures that sprayed mists from their wings over the crops belonging to other kings, and those mists killed most of the little flying bugs that populated the air, so when summer came, hot and cloying and the prince went outside in the dark of night there were just the usual noises of giants rolling over in their sleep and huge feral wolves prowling at the edge of the porch light and the soft wet hop and plop of toad frogs in the grass. But no fireflies.
The kingdom had fireflies in the warmth of summer, though. The kingdom, ruled over by the kind and gentle king, whom the little boy loved with all his heart, loved with the blind and unquestioning love of someone who has never had his heart broken, never been hurt. The kingdom whose air smelled different, whose bayous were clear and bright and burbled and almost spoke aloud, the kingdom whose tree-girt walls made it the safest, most pure place ever, had fireflies.
They moved in the air like faeries dancing in the dusk, gyreing and gimbaling to a music that we kids couldn’t quite hear. They filed out of the forest walls by the hundreds, each drawn to the wide open spaces of carefully groomed lawn, there to dance for the sheer pleasure of being alive. And when the old king would sit on the front porch in his swing and push himself slowly back and forth, and dispense quiet, calm wisdom to his sons and their wives, the princes and princesses would leap and caper off the wide grey porch into the huge green expanse and dance with the faeries.
Those nights would never end, it seemed. If you were a very careful prince or princess with a very clear, very innocent heart you could track the on-again, off-again flashes of the fireflies, track them the way a hunter tracks his prey by where it has been, postulating where it will be, and you could cup your hands around a tiny black speck and suddenly you held in your hand the most magical of all things: a tiny speck of life whose sole power enabled it to make light at will. Looking down at this tiny piece of magic in your hands your face would be limned with that yellow-green fire that didn’t burn, didn’t consume, simply existed, simple Was.
Those nights, those endless summer nights, parceled out like chartreuse pearls strung on a black wire. We knew they’d last forever. But they didn’t. They never do. One day the king faltered, grew weak, and died. The prince had to put aside chasing the faeries for a time to carry the king’s coffin, the first time he had to assume the mantle of Manhood. After that the kingdom felt empty, the gentle absence of its king manifest in his empty throne, in the lack of his voice carrying out softly across the faeiry-dappled night.
Nights still passed when the fireflies would dance and the heart of the prince would stir, and he would leap off the porch and chase and plot trajectories in the dark with his eyes and hands, but always, in the back of his mind, something was missing. The ogre had closed up his castle and moved to a nice bridge in county Cork. The rocs had taken wing, leaving behind the remains of nests made of tree trunks and boulders. The stalking wolves had shrunk to the size and shape of foxes and racoons, and trundled in the dark reaches away from prying eyes. The king no longer sat on his throne, and the kingdom would never feel quite the same way again. Only the faeries remain, with their cold green light, stitching unread messages across the night.
And if you’re looking for a Christmas present that will make a little magic for you next summer — consider the author’s restored, vintage GMC truck. You can email me and I’ll let him know.