Thousands of geniuses live and die undiscovered – either by themselves or by others. ~ Mark Twain
It’s certainly no secret that Deborah and I are in love with old homes, and with this home in particular. I find that the things of the past put the present in perspective and help focus my attention on the important. When I think of an old home like the Fairfield House, I remember that every beam, every bit of gingerbread, and even every old-style cut nail was once the entire focus of a human being’s attention, if only for the moment it took to place the nail and drive it home. The instant likely passed unnoticed and it would certainly be impossible years later for the workman to recall every nail he had the pleasure to have known. Driving nails was simply a task required, like as not carried out under the impatient eye of a foreman while an equally impatient homeowner counted the days to completion. Most days pass in just this way; our energies spent on incredibly urgent but forgettable tasks which consume our moments and crowd out all else.
Yet the things we do and most especially the things we make are a kind of calling card we leave behind for those who are not yet at home; the people still to come. They simply say, “We were here.” We have at the Fairfield House a very special calling card, many of them in fact, recorded as lines on the pages of a register from the hotel once owned by my family, handed down now to me. The reading of it fascinates me. Who were these people, why were they staying over, where were they going, what adventure were they on? Travel was no small matter in those days of horses and steam railroads. Long dead businesses call out from advertisements on the ink blotters, hawking wares no longer to be found anywhere or certainly not at those prices.
It’s easy to think of the past as a sort of old movie where people live orderly lives in fine homes. The present seems vivid and bright, the past a distant gray; but for those who lived them, past days were as just clear and sharp and as filled with colors and smells, passions and heartaches.
And so I smile at the occasional seemingly sharp comment in the register between my ancestors, wife to husband over some transaction or other. Did they remember the moments in business or the time in each others arms when the day’s work was finally complete? So much has changed, yet people remain exactly the same.
All of this, to me, is a reminder to pay attention here and now; to not let the sounds of our lives be drowned in the dull roar of endless minutia. Feel the hammer in your hand, hear the sound of the nail hitting bottom, and don’t forget to sign the register.
I am participating in Common Ground’s Vintage Inspiration Friday.