There was something transient about my upbringing, something very concerned with independence and “the new.” My family was stable, quite stable. Motivated by the loss of his mother, during my young adulthood, as I boomeranged home, my father instilled in me a reverence for the elderly, in particular, my maternal grandmother. There was old furniture in the barn, a barn remodeled, heated and lit to protect the pieces that moved with my father during his life. He was a collector of the old. He saw life and value in it.
But I rather think my mother was a student of the new. She saw value and sentiment in particular old pieces, held onto them in immaculate condition. My father’s antiques were chipped, scuffed and broken, but their value lay beyond their varnish and veneer, to something unseen, a history in the soul of its surfaces and joints.
So the love of history lay inside my heart. But other lessons were illustrated before me as I grew older. I saw my grandmother’s house, which my great-grandfather built, sold because “no one could afford to buy it.” My parents bought their home decades ago, a basic farmhouse, which had been worked on and remodeled over time. Too young to be an antique, too old to fully fit their needs. A brand new kitchen, developed gardens, it slowly became their own. In the culture of my larger family, children were expected to make a way for themselves, own a home, start a family, after adequate preparation through college and stable employment.
We broke the trends and I’m sure bewildered the relatives with our cross-country move, graduate schooling, embrace of family life while still in graduate school, still cross-country. One child, two children, three children, rental after rental, job after job. Finally, we feel settled. We live in a home that is not our own, and yet is our own, because it will be one day. It is a new home. It fit the budget and the needed specifications. It is not the home built in 1906 we wanted very much, but it is a beautiful home, it is our home.
Yet, today I saw something equally beautiful, deeply rich in meaning and soul. Described as a “Victorian barn” and a “kid paradise” I crossed the threshold into a wonder of time and history. Not a time capsule, but the embodiment of what home ought to be. It was a multi-generational home. Purchased and moved to an empty plot of land by a man who, like my father, saw the life in the old, saw the value behind the veneer, behind the effort of lugging the thing around. He moved this home and piece by piece made it a home for his family. Now his children live there. And their children. And their children. Four generations have crossed that threshold and put their stamp upon the walls. Four generations have sat in that kitchen, swept up messes, thanked the Lord for this piece of history that is as much a part of the family as any family heirloom. The home has taken on the dents and quirks of the family itself. A windowsill beat up by a grandchild. Rooms for designated styles of play. Endless crafts outside by a mother who stays on her feet even when she can rest, so ready for action, so ready to protect and love and shelter. Her mother stays by, ready to assist the grandchild made more beautiful by his special needs. With a sigh of wonder in their voices they tell the stories of each stick of furniture, each nook that some man put his hand to, to make more functional for a changing family. A family who opens the doors of this grand barn to welcome another generation, to make this their home again. That act of generosity is modeled in the time and dedication of one generation to the next. The house embraces its vocation. The grandparents embrace their vocation. The parents embrace their vocation. And the children play, faithful as all children are to their special vocation, to exist and to be loved.
With a whole-hearted joy, without envy, without longing, I sat in the warmth and light of the parlor sitting room, calm and serene. What a blessing to have seen this today.