Monday, September 24, 2012

A Chip Off the Old Block

My dad has always been pretty talented when it comes to wood-working.  For a guy with little to no formal training, and with nothing more to go on than his own creative intuition, he's actually really good.  Take a short walk around my parents' house, and you'll see several examples of his simple, yet elegantly useful work.  There's a window on the back wall of my childhood bedroom corralled on either side by shelves and a desk he constructed to provide me with storage and a workspace I spent hours at as a kid.  At Christmas, there is a collection of wooden reindeer, each with a name hand-painted on the bottom, sitting atop the entertainment center in the living room.  While at first it was just Mom, Dad, Lensey, and I, when Lensey and Josh got married, Dad made a new one for him.  And I'm sure Adrienne's will appear up there this Christmas.  Behind the house, at the edge of the yard where the grass slowly fades into the leafy carpet of the woods, Dad built a storage shed a few years ago.  And hanging on the outside wall, are five decorative wooden plates: one with "Edwards" carved into it, and each of our four names dangling beneath.  The plates hung against the brick on the front porch for years, and despite the need for a sanding and fresh coat of stain, Mom decided to recycle the decoration for the shed.

Perhaps his most impressive project, though, is the set of corner shelves he built for the living room.  Over the years they have held dozens of mine and Lensey's sports trophies, a collection of Encyclopedias, old yearbooks, examples of Dad's NASCAR models, random family photos, and other knick-knacks families feel the need to keep at an easy reach, despite barely remembering they're there.  Those shelves have been integral to the feng shui of the living room, and I spent countless hours as a child looking at memories I made on the sports field, or learning about Mom and Dad's high school antics (Dad's lucky he had enough brain cells left to read once he got to college).  Since Lensey and I have both moved out, the trophies have mostly made their way to the basement, and Dad's book collection has slowly grown to take up most of the space.

One glance at the books gives you a pretty good idea of my dad's primary interests: virtually all of them are historical in nature, and a large number deal with local history in some way.  One of his favorite pastimes is just driving around forgotten back roads, looking at historical landmarks, or exploring old homeplaces, where little remains other than a crumbling foundation, or vine-covered planks forming the faint skeleton of an old house or barn.  When I was a kid, we used to take hikes into the woods in the LBL, where we'd stumble upon a long-forgotten plot of land with an old family cemetery, almost unreachable because of fallen tree limbs and overgrowth.  To this day, anytime we pass an empty lot with two big shade trees conspicuously placed, Dad will comment "I bet there was an old homeplace there."

Over the years, as much as I've likely made fun of Dad for being so "nerdy," it has become unmistakably clear that I am my father's son.  I've slowly grown into the same kind of person.  Last spring, I was walking Liza's dogs one afternoon and spent almost an hour exploring the exterior of the old Marrowbone School.  I climbed up the staircase at the entrance and looked in, the floor sunken in, chalkboards still on the wall in the old classrooms.  I walked around to the side of the building and looked into the old gym, now a storage space for the mill that calls the old building home.  The rims and bleachers were still in place, scoreboards still mounted on the walls, and I found myself picturing the place packed to the gills with spectators, watching the Cardinals take another win.

Adrienne and I spent Sunday afternoon at Natural Bridge in the Red River Gorge, and I was overcome with a feeling of solemnity for those that came before us.  I found myself picturing what it must have been like for early pioneers, in a totally foreign place, trying to hack out survival in an unforgiving landscape.  I sat in awe at the sight of the towering rock formations, cut out of the land slowly by millennia of Nature doing Her work.  I stood on top of the bridge, looking out over the gorge below me, and truly lost myself for a moment.  In some strange, intangible way, it made me miss home.

I never gave Dad credit for opening my eyes to the incredible and interesting history that lies so close to home.  I liken it to the way history used to be passed down from generation to generation.  Stories collected from ancestors over the course of centuries were handed down orally, likely losing a bit of fact to the more interesting exaggerations that human nature is so prone to use...Like a game of Telephone on a massive scale, taking decades to complete.  It might not have been the exact same technique; Dad's way of exposing me to history was a bit modernized, and more tangible, but effective all the same.

I was watching a documentary on KET last week (something I witnessed my dad do dozens of times throughout my childhood) discussing the massive wave of death brought on by the Civil War.  What we hear about from textbooks and lectures are the numbers, and it's easy to say "Damn, that's a lot of people."  But what we don't hear is how people dealt with it.  How it affected the friends and families of those lost, many left to rot on sun-baked fields or hastily tossed in mass graves.  We don't think about the fact that Gettysburg, a town of roughly 2,000 people, was left to deal with the aftermath of some 8,000 deaths.  I found myself totally enthralled...Not because I'm a nerd for Civil War history (I am)...But because those stories were unknown to me.  They were human...They were reality.  

There's something about exploring old relics of our history that brings those days back to the present, even if our imaginations might be totally inaccurate, and even if we don't have any direct connection to it.  But, I don't really think that matters.  What really matters is that we do those things; what matters is that we try to remember.  So many stories and histories get lost to the turning pages of time...Stories that deserve to be heard, deserve to be told. 

I owe my dad a debt of gratitude for instilling in me a sense of respect for those that came before me.  Perhaps it was his influence that led me to pursue a study of history when I was in college.  I think it was.  But, even if that weren't the case, I'm very fortunate to have a father that knows how important it is to remember the past...If for no other reason than to ensure we don't make the same mistakes twice.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoyed everything about this.

    And for what it's worth, bet those early pioneers would've taken the chairlift, too.