Message in a bottle
It is impossible for me to sit back and watch the summer turn into autumn without thinking back. I always mourn the passing of summer a little, and this year’s summer will really be missed. It was the summer of the grandson. I pulled William all over town in his little red wagon, and we spent long hours ” ‘ooking” at things.
It is a two way view, to be sure. You get a glimpse of who and what that little boy will be defined by his interests and his steadily increasing vocabulary. Through his eyes also, you become awakened to the miracles and marvels of our little town, things like all the playgrounds. The Methodist bells that play music. Stone Consulting’s train window display. The library. Ducks to be fed, rivers to watch. Stones to be gathered. The fountain. The bike trail. Bunnies. No end to the details, really.
So this summer was a good one, and come fall, I had another year of remembering to add to my stack of rememberings from other years. Remembrances of people who are gone. Places that were something else before they became what they are now. Things that are done differently, or maybe not done at all. Different phases of my life, by-gone times. Invariably in the fall, I find myself taking inventory of all these things.
This year, though, in a strange way, I found myself remembering things that were before my memory. I spent a lot of time wandering around in the days when the city of Warren was just being carved out of the wilderness.
Our latest house is an old one, from 1848. Warren was established in 1837, so this is one of the earliest homes in the town. This humble little story-and-a-half house still has the hand dug, rock lined well in the little cellar, and the building was built in old way, with massive beams from trees that grew, and lathe and plaster, with low ceilings and small rooms, architecturally typical for its day. Carving a city out of the wilderness takes a lot of time and energy, and these little homes were practical and easy to heat.
Pulling William around town in his little red wagon allowed Tim and me to locate similar dwellings with old stone foundations. We began to develop a vision of how our city grew, beginning with these tiny little homes. 20 years later, bigger homes, plain family homes began to spring up. The lumber business brought prosperity, and prosperity brought in tagalong business enterprises, and soon Warren was booming. This is when the grand mansions began to go up.
Tim was told that that the previous owner had placed a bottle in the wall of the house during renovations. Luckily the person who placed the bottle was still in town, otherwise, Tim would have ripped the whole house down in his search. He was determined to find it, and he did.
On February 28, 1988, Robert Wallace’s familial pride led him to carefully inscribe a brief history of his ancestors and of that little house on Water. Twenty five years later, we carefully broke the bottle and read the information on that brittle yellow sheet of paper.
We read about the young couple who bought the house shortly after its construction, back in 1852. Robert Kitchen brought his young bride Clarinda Dalrymple home to this house. Together they raised six children in this tiny little house. The house passed to their eldest daughter, Cora Meyer, in 1898. She passed it to her only daughter Marguerite Wallace in 1940, who passed it to her only child, Robert Wallace in 1988.
I find myself pondering those lives. I don’t know those people not really. Most of them were gone before I got here, but we now own the house where their lives played out. They raised their children, just as I did. Doted on grandchildren, just I do. Domestic chores needed to be done, meals cooked, clothes and linens laundered, floors swept. There were livings to be made, holidays celebrated. Special occasions were marked, birthdays celebrated, weddings, births, deaths. They dreamed dreams and cried tears.
It’s kind of cool, isn’t it? Time goes on and current events turn into history. I like to think about Robert and Clarinda living their ordinary lives in their time. The years went by and their time passed. One generation gave way to another and then to another. Their time slipped away until at last it became our time, and our time will slip away too. Just as they could not conceive of our lives today, I cannot conceive of what will come next.
We have just one life to make a difference, and so we try to do just that. We aLlove the people in our lives as best we can. We keep our homes running, we make livings. We celebrate holidays, mark milestones and special occasions. We dream dreams. We cry tears. In the end, we are gone from this world. Just like Robert and Clarinda, Marguerite, Cora, Robert.
It’s a pattern of life that was in place long before we took our places in this world. It is the wisdom of a mind greater than our own. In its own way, it is beautiful.
Tim and I have copied Robert’s paper. It will be replaced in the wall with two more papers. The previous owner will document the house’s history during her tenure, and Tim and I will note our own piece of it. It gives me pleasure to think that in 50 years, someone might, once again, pull that bottle out of the wall and open it in a curious way, reading and wondering about all of us.
I wonder about them too, the next owners of the home, the next people to find that bottle. I wonder if the paper will spark their interest in history. Perhaps they will ask around town. Perhaps a grown man called William will tell them “Yes. Tim and Debby Hornburg were my grandparents. They took me for wagon rides all over town. Warren was a great place to grow up when I was a little boy”
Once again, he will remember things like playgrounds, church bells, the children’s room at the library, ducks, rivers, stones, fountains, trains. He will remember being gathered up and kissed to smithereens by people who loved him dearly. No end to the details, really, and in the remembering of them, we will be remembered too.