Through the front of door of my grandparents' home I stare at the hazy blue mountains. Farmer John's field slopes gently down, the farm buildings tucked into the valley below me. This view, framed in by rhododendrons, is engraved in my mind. Yet this time I feel I have to capture more details as I stand here for the last time. How can it be the last time?
My grandparents lived on this mountain for over 50 years. My mother never knew another childhood home, and I never knew my grandparents to reside anywhere else. This house is in me, showing up in my dreams, in my waking hours. Despite living four hours away, we spent a great deal of time in that little brick house tucked at the edge of the forest. For a kid like me it was a dream to visit. There was always an interesting antique to look at, a walk to go on in the woods, a quiet afternoon to be spent reading on the porch swing. I hated to leave; I waited with anticipation to return.
As I help my aunt clean out 50 years' worth of things shoved in the backs of closets, I am struck by how much this home had shaped me. My aesthetic, my delights, my desires—how clearly I can see the roots. I am delighted to bring home my grandpa's old Coleman stove & camp light, my love of camping and the outdoors inherited surely from him. I take home antiques, including the first one my grandparents ever bought. This early wall box, with it's rose head nails and time-worn wood, began their journey as antique dealers. They had a fabulous collection, with many Pennsylvania folk art pieces. My appreciation for early decorative arts was surely passed from them through my own mother's work.
I take a break to walk through the yard. One third of it slopes down the side of the mountain, and the remaining land is mostly wooded. My grandpa's dry-stack stone walls line beds overflowing with ferns, hostas, asters and black-eyed Susans. I think of my grandma's best friend Joan. We used to visit her amazing gardens. She knew where all the best wildflowers grow, and took us on the famous May Valley hike. My love of flowers was certainly planted here and from my own mother's garden. The little gray potting shed, with its weather-worn picket fence, comes into view as I walk around the house. It has a Peter Rabbit sort of look, and gives that kind of sweet country feeling you get when you look at Potter's illustrations. It's no wonder I am obsessed with flowers and vegetables in my own creative work.
I come back inside and start carrying my grandpa's theology books to the car so that we can get his study corner fully stocked. Even my faith, my love of reading and studying, has deep roots. "Our now is always bequeathed to us" writes James K. A. Smith in his book about time, and I have never felt that phrase more viscerally than while cleaning out my grandparents' house. So much of who I am has been shaped by that place, by those people.
For all the feeling of similarity with my grandparents, I am struck also by the contrast of my life with theirs. When they bought the house, they had their first child, and three more would follow before they made it to my age. They had a home, a family, a garden, and roots in a place. For me, the Lord has not granted a husband or children or a home of my own. It does not mean that the Lord loves me any less, it just means he has a different kind of story in mind. My life is different and yet the same, bound up in the history that we share. Being different is not always the most fun path, I admit. I often wish my life and work were more "normal." To dwell on those thoughts does us little good, and I am learning—always learning—to trust His plan, unusual though it seems from my perspective.
As I ponder the idea of contrasts, I am struck by how much similarity I have found with my grandparents despite the paths of our lives being drastically different. How often we often mistake contrasts as simply holding up a good and a bad to compare, when on so many occasions it is holding up vastly different things and seeing the similarity underneath. Contrasts can help emphasize affinity despite differences. September is a good month to teach us this. While so many colors are fading, the Goldenrod trumpets it's brilliant yellow like one last hurrah before the cold settles over us. The asters clothe fields and roadsides with their complimentary purples. On the other hand, bluestem grasses turn a rich but muted coppery color, while other grasses fade to flaxen hues. September flora holds both the quiet dwindling and the joyous celebration of last days in beautiful tension. Both are making their way towards winter, each with a different emphasis, a different timbre. We need them both: the quiet mourning and the joyful celebration.
It can be no surprise, then, as I thought about doing a more autumnal design that I landed on prairie plants. These are some of my favorites, and as we stitch them in class, I hope to share a little bit about each one. It's not a hard class, the stitches and even the design are simple. I hope it will be a pleasant project to stitch, and I always look forward to stitching it with each of you. My grandparents were generous in sharing what they loved with me, and I hope I can be, too. Even if you do not come along for the class, will you join me in watching the symphony of September? Slow down and watch the harmonies and dissonances playing over the grasslands. Whisper your own eulogies of summer with the rustling grasses; sing gloriously with the goldenrod.