How does a place hold memories? How does a house contain the lives of those who have long since stopped living in it? I was vividly reminded last week of the power a place can have in our lives as I walked through the yard at my grandparents’ house.
Will, my youngest son, was a baby when Mamaw died. He will be 16 in November. I was a junior in high school when Papaw passed away. Yet, being there brought back so many memories. Everywhere I looked there were reminders of moments and happenings. They were surprisingly fresh after all these years.
The memories were of mostly ordinary activities. I remembered how I used to watch Papaw cut the grass and wish that he would let me push the mower. (What was I thinking?) Then when he would let me mow, and I would miss spots, how he would fuss at me and tell me to be more careful next time. I remembered sitting on the carport with him watching him whittle and trying to do it like he did it. Mostly, I just remembered being with him and doing whatever it was he was doing, or watching him do whatever it was he was doing. The memories of Mamaw were similar — picking vegetables from the garden, watching her cook, helping her break beans, and all the times she let me beat her at checkers.
Not all the memories were of Mamaw and Papaw. There were memories of aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors and the yard that seemed so incredibly large when I was a boy. The side yard more specifically could be Yankee Stadium and Shields-Watkins Field all in the same afternoon. I could almost hear the laughter and cheering even still.
I left the home place with a deep sense of gratitude for the memories that it held for me, and for the visit that had brought so many of those memories back to life, if but for a brief time. What a gift to have known the people who had lived in that place.
Places have their time. Children grow up and move away. Loved ones go to be with the Lord. The place is still in the same location and it is still special; but it is not the same as it was when the people who lived there were doing the ordinary activities that made it such a special place. Those children who grew up have gone to other places where they now do those ordinary activities that make up so much of life; and in so doing, they are creating new special places for a new generation. Like an empty canvas, the places where we live patiently collect the brushstrokes of our lives — the dark tragedies, the bright milestones, and the various shades in between. They hold the stories of lives in such a way that only we can see what happened there and what it meant to us when it happened.
Places in and of themselves are not special. What makes them special is what happens there, the lives that get lived, and the love that gets shared. The stories that unfold and the dreams that are born make a place special. The people that inhabit those stories and fuel those dreams are what make a place special.
So it is with the places where we are now living. May our living do something in those places that causes them to be places that remind us of being loved, of dreaming dreams and of sharing our lives with one another.