Write about a found object. That’s the next assignment in the MIT courseware program that I’m doing.
I wonder if that means I have to go out and find an object?
The sky has clouded over in Wingina, Norwood, Virginia. The leaves have turned over and the wind is picking up.
It’s going to storm.
I’m sitting at a desk. The chair has a familiar computer-desk-feel to it. It’s leather and on wheels. It’s a new desk with a keyboard drawer/tray. My computer, portable printer, iPad, Zune, and cell phone are scattered across it. There are various flash drives, ink cartridges, and USB wires collected in the corner behind a lamp that looks turn-of-the-century, the twentieth century. An air conditioner hums behind me, on energy save.
Thunder rumbles in the background. The porch swing rocks rhythmically on the other side of the large, paned window. So large, I cannot open it alone. The glass in my window has clearly been replaced. But in other places in the house, the glass is heavy, its weight causing it to run in waves down the pane. What memories lie therein?
According to the marker at the front door, the house was built in 1854. What family lived here? A young African American man, working close by, called it “the big house” the way slaves would have referred to it when it was new. Is that a hangover? Did he hear his parents, and grandparents call it that? There are no slave quarters on the property. From its position on the hill, it witnessed the trains rolling by—toward Richmond? Appomattox? Coal trains run on it today. Its whistle blows warning deer and foxes to flee. John Prine springs to my mind every time I hear it…
When I was a child, my family would travel
Down to Western Kentucky, where my parents were born
And there’s a backwards old town,
So often remembered, that my memories are warn…
The memories here are worn into tongue and groove hardwood floors, knotted and scarred. Red bricks line the fireplace, long ago blackened by fires that kept others looking out this same window onto this same landscape, warm. Who lived here during Reconstruction? The 20s? Did this house fall into disrepair during the Great Depression? Was it lovingly mended in better times? Did the family, finding prosperity in the fifties, send their children away to college in Charlottesville or Williamsburg? Did they find something in the larger world that made them reluctant to return? Was its serenity too much? Did it drive away those who resided here in the same way it beckons writers seeking the solitude of train whistles, rainbows, and hummingbirds?
How long did it sit vacant with windows like eyes looking out onto the lush Virginia landscape, feeling betrayed.
The place has a feel to it. Found, not purchased. I’m sure Trudy paid money for almost every object in this room. Even the property itself, tucked away off the side of a side road in Nelson County, Virginia. I’m just as sure she found everything, except the chair, desk, and of course, my possessions that litter it.
My Riverside Shakespeare looks at home on the quilt covered day-bed. I have taken to walking around the house photographing things. Finding them: surprised by the tiny doll on the mantle, the ukulele in the kitchen, the pewter cupped hands on the porch—the first floor porch. I found all of them, captured them with my camera, committed them lovingly to a digital memory to be carried away. Even the double rainbow. Pictures will be on Facebook by Monday night.
I wonder what sort of shape Trudy, the proprietor, found this place in. It’s a 19th century farmhouse, three stories tall. Two original rooms per floor. The original kitchen was probably detached—beyond the pantry that leads to what is presently Trudy’s private quarters. The porch opens into a hall with a large, old-fashioned staircase. To the left is the living room, the parlor. Beyond the stairs, nestled away, is the refectory, I suppose it was the dining room in the beginning. Upstairs, on the second floor, two bedrooms. A bathroom, with its claw-footed tub and complicated shower system. A step down, through a curtained door, lies another bedroom and a small room with a staircase down to the kitchen. At some point that was probably the cook’s quarters. The other back bedroom probably belonged to the upstairs maid.
The third floor, small before Trudy added dormers, clearly belonged to servants. Slaves? Possibly young children.
But what I’ve found here isn’t as significant as what here has found in me—awakened. This place has touched me deep inside. The house, the train, the company.
The rain stopped and I stepped onto the porch and I was breathing air untouched by today. My comment was, it smells like the 1960s. Before the pollution invaded my childhood sensibilities, before sorrow, heartbreak, before the world crowded in.
The dawn is fresh. And with it, I wake up.
Word Count: 826