February 12, 2010

Stories in the landscape

On our way home from an errand today (we had to drop his car off at a dealership to get a defective steering unit replaced), my father and I drove past the house where he had lived as a teenager. The homestead, he calls it. Someone else owns the house now. The road we were on has stayed the same over the last sixty years, widening but following the same path, but much of the landscape we were driving through has changed.

“Those houses weren’t there,” my father said, “It was just a field. I’d come riding my bike through here at night, and the wind would come whipping across.”

As we turned the corner, he pointed to two cape cod houses, much like the house I grew up in. “My father built those,” he said. My grandfather, who died before I was born, was a master carpenter, and one of my father’s clearest childhood memories is hanging out a window, with a hammer in his hand, working on a house with his father.

“The guy who lived in that house used to fix my bike,” my father said. “And up that street was the guy who butchered our pig.”

He gestured toward a woody area just beyond another cluster of houses. “Over there, that’s where I had my trap line. You can still see the creek.”

We turned onto a four-lane road, crowded with commercial buildings, parking lots, and small businesses. “This whole area was a farm,” he said. “There was a pond in the middle for the cattle.”

I’ve heard my father’s stories so many times that sometimes when I’m in the car with my kids, I’ll point out places that are no longer there, places that disappeared before I was even born. The other day when I was driving my daughter home from the train station, I pointed to an old house on a corner.

“Your grandfather used to play there sometimes,” I said to her.

“Yeah, when he was a musician,” she said. “It was a joint. That’s what he called it.”

I looked at her, surprised that she already knew the story.

“He always tells me that story when he gives me a ride home,” she explained.

Of course.


Sandy said...

I love how stories get handed down this way, generation after generation.

Songbird said...

That's so sweet. I wish my kids had my parents in their lives.

Anonymous said...

That's a good articulation of how oral tradition begins.