Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Holding History

Note: originally published January 15.

Ever since we moved into our new house, I’ve automatically opened my junk drawer in search of flatware. Expecting to find a knife or fork, I’ve been consistently surprised to discover rubber bands instead. Or pens. Or a screwdriver.

Today I'd had enough. On impulse, I grabbed the flatware tray out of its drawer, emptied the junk drawer contents into the flatware drawer, and sighed with relief as the flatware was lowered, finally, into its rightful home.

Why is that drawer its rightful home? My best guess is that must have been the drawer Mom kept the flatware in when we lived here before. Did I mention this is my second time living in this house? It’s the parsonage of my church. My family lived here when I was seven while my dad was the interim pastor here at Laurel.

I never dreamed my life would bring me back to this house. It’s very surreal to meander through my new home accompanied by constant flashbacks. Even more surreal is how little my new house actually resembles my old childhood home, a reality which gives me just a small twinge of sadness every once in a while.

But the memories are vivid. I open a cupboard and expect to find Mom's food dryer in it.

Walking down to the basement which now houses the church office, I suddenly feel the urge to duck a rubber band war onslaught taking place only in my mind’s eye.

Sitting at our dining room table calls sheepishly to mind a small victory. Instead of eating the peas Mom put on my plate, I’d tossed them one by one under the table surreptitiously. I never admitted until years later that the peas hadn’t been scattered by my baby brother, nor had it been my big brother’s responsibility to pick them all up, as he had obediently done.

Tonight, however, I found my sentimental crème de la crème.

I had noticed the rolled paper in a high cupboard a few times over the past days as we opened and closed storage spaces trying to figure out where to put everything. I assumed the roll had been left by the previous tenant and made a mental note to get it down and deliver it to them. Then I went on my way and thought nothing more about it.

Tonight Jeff pulled it down and stretched it between his hands. It appeared to be an architectural drawing. My interest piqued, I asked, “Are those floor plans?”

Jeff mumbled an affirmative reply as he scanned the pages.

I pressed, "Of the parsonage?"

He glanced at the bottom right corner of the first page and said, "Yep." Then he passed the plans to me and headed next door to the church facility, which he manages, clipping his walkie-talkie (our communication system) to his pants pocket as he walked out the door.

I opened the rolled paper and came first to an elevation blueprint of a three-story parsonage! I never knew this, but the original intent had been to build extra bedrooms into the attic. I took a second and imagined what that would have been like. Then I glanced down at the bottom right corner, as Jeff had done, and read "Laurel Church Parsonage, Laurel, Ore." in bold architectural scrawl.

Underneath those words, in oddly familiar hand, was notated: "5-14-63". I frowned at the date for a second before recognition flooded through me. That was my grandma's distinctive script! She had pored over these plans! She had handled this same piece of paper, 44 years ago! I’m sure as church secretary, she had just been filling in the blanks left by whomever had drawn up the blueprints.

But I wasn’t exactly sure it was her handwriting, because in the olden days, they taught everyone to write the same. So I contained my excitement.

Until I flipped to the next page. It was a blueprint of the original basement layout, from 1963. But the 1983 layout of my childhood had been penciled in.

By (gasp!) my dad! In 1983!

This time I was absolutely positive. His handwriting is unmistakable. He makes Greek E's. My excitement burst forth as I was warmed by awe and delight.

Not only was I handling a paper my grandma's delicate, beautiful hands had probably held, but now I knew my dad's rough, work-worn hands had grasped each page as well. Had he, back when he was about my age, felt sentiment over seeing his mom's handwriting?

I grabbed my walkie-talkie and squawked into the speaker, “Jeff!!!! Guess what?!?!?”

He crackled back, “What?”

I trembled, “These floor plans have my dad’s handwriting all over them! And my grandma’s too!! These same floor plans must have been here when I was a kid! My dad held these in his hands 24 years ago! I’m…” I paused, struggling to come up with a verbal expression for such a reverent moment. “I’m…holding history! In my hands!”

My darling husband, not nearly as impressed, nevertheless gave his most enthusiastic walkie-talkie reply ever. “Wow! That is really cool!” I let him get back to work as I soaked up the history in my hands.

Even though my memories of this house are pretty well cemented in my mind, Dad’s pencil markings filled in a few blanks for me. I learned that one of the offices downstairs, which had been the guest room in my childhood, had been known originally as the “guest den”, onaccounta it didn’t have its own closet to begin with. And what is now the office conference room was called the “canning kitchen” when I was little and the “hobby room” in 1963.

I marveled at the evolution of this house over time. The original plans looked nothing like the 1983 revision, which looks nothing like the present day reality. This home has been a labor of love by dozens of people for several decades.

In fact, there have been so many upgrades and changes that only the basic layout really resembles my childhood memories. In many ways, it doesn’t even feel like the same house (save my flatware drawer compulsion). And being the exceptionally sentimental gal that I am, all those (very useful and very welcome) upgrades have left a tiny empty spot in my heart for a parsonage that exists only in my memory.

But finding those house plans with my dad’s handwriting on them tied my memories to the present and provided an actual written record of what once was. Something for me to refer to as I reflect on the past. And a starting point from which to move forward. What will my page of this house’s history hold?