We have lived five seasons on the old homestead. Five seasons of extended grace to fields, and furrows, to garden and shed. Five seasons of running into myself as nine, twelve, sixteen, twenty one with five in tow…a blended family that found shelter under The Old Oaks welcoming shade, and my Father’s watchful gaze. Five seasons of longing for time to slow it’s relentless march. Five seasons of learning to embrace loss, and discovering joy in the way new life comes from hard grounds. It was time to change. Time to make the old new, the broken whole, but where to start? This spring, under the weight of wet, heavy snow the Old Oak tree split at the top and a large heavy branch crashed to the earth. I trembled that morning upon discovering the branches lying separated from the root source.
“Don’t leave me too”, I whispered, running my hands over the scarred ancient bark…”not yet…not ever”
I remember when Dad rattled the oaks last July with his passing, “Squeak” said it was like a hurricane in the tops of the trees, and she knew her “George” was gone. I felt paralyzed to touch anything lest the memory of my parents be forever altered, or worse…lost. I was stuck between the forward and the backward swing of a pendulum of emotion. Deep down, I knew to keep grasping and trying to hold the past together was not living, it was more like being a curator in a mausoleum. Yet, everything felt sacred. The old wood stove with the burnt out box, Mom’s dishes, Dad’s shoes. It was in holding these things, that I was reminded that it was love that built this house, and the one before that and the one before that. It was a desire for family to be together that drove down hard roots in unrelenting soils. This was a homestead. A place to call the children and their children back to. An anchor in the storm of restlessness,a place where love would reign. So I breathed and whispered to the Gardener that it was time…time to change.
“Where do we start?” The old porch that wouldn’t see another winter without bracing? The roof where the tin was peeling back, the walls that needed insulation, the barn that was needing closed in? The answer came dressed in oak cabinets that had survived a fire, but needed a Master’s touch. Like our lives, and our hearts. It was decided. The kitchen would be first. The question then loomed, “how do you make what belonged to another family fit yours?” I could feel my parents nod in approval as The Gardener sketched, and planned and pondered.
“That is what we have always done, that is what you will do. ”
The old homestead had a long history of being a modge-podge of blended hearts and bloods that called each other home, it only made sense that we would start in the heart of the home, making the old oak cabinets fit. It was on a late summer day, as we sat around the living room dreaming out our plans that the Boy, the Light Bearer with the universe in his eyes dreamed a dream of open spaces and walls being torn down, and room being made. I trembled as I felt the magnitude of the remodel of his vision….tear out the wall separating the kitchen and the living room? I glanced at the Gardener who surveyed the plan with quiet intensity. “It is possible” he said. “It would change the way this whole area looked…” He glanced my way, waiting…”but, we would need to find a beam to support that long of a span”
I saw myself at nine, running through the house after Dad had framed the walls of the kitchen, it was a great big loop, I laughed at the thought of Mom literally going in circles to clean. I remember the way that opening into the kitchen was the perfect place to nail up sheets for a curtain as my brothers and sisters and I created a special romantic dinner “out” for the two of them one anniversary. Get rid of the wall? As I sat staring into the kitchen, I felt for the first time the weight and the joy of living here. Of making it MY home, instead of just my parent’s place. This would be my touch to a long heritage. “Let’s do it!” I declared with a lump in my throat. The Boy smiled and spoke gently, “I think Grandma would have loved it!”. He smiled, I smiled and the Gardener sighed knowing the journey of transformation was going to be long and hard. The kitchen waited in silence as The Gardener began his search for just the perfect beam. Long enough, strong enough,and old enough.
The day he brought it home was a cold October. Working swiftly in between the rain, the Gardener’s strong hands carefully unloaded the grayed, weathered beam. and with a smile and a nod of respect he patted the side of the beam with his chisel. “Oak!” He smiled, as his eyes took in the craftsmanship that created this massive timber. ” You don’t find them like this anymore. Over 100 years old! ” The declaration was almost a whisper as he ran his chisel over the hand carved surface of the beam. “Came from an old Amish barn in Pennsylvania.” His hands moved over the rough sawn ridges and edges sensing the strength and the potential of the wood. “Look at those marks, the way they carved this from the tree. Turned the dowels by treadle, what stories this beam could tell!”
The Gardener began to whittle, and carve, and chisel the beam to his specifications with the same care he gave the earth when planning and planting his harvest. Methodical, precise, patient, intentional movements brought the massive old oak beam to rest securely upon the ceiling of the newly opened expanse. We stood back in awe at the revelation of how one old beam, given new life, gave new hope to a tired space. I went for the phone to call my Dad to celebrate, and remembered too late to stop the tears, that I couldn’t do that anymore. The Gardener wrapped his arms around me, and whispered. “It’s ok, he knows”. Somewhere outside, just past the oaks an old owl calls from the trees, and the wind picks up a bit and tosses more of the golden leaves to the ground. A reminder to me, of how beautiful letting go can be.