Today, he would have been eighty-four. And I wonder how life would be different if he were here. For sixteen years, we have remembered his life. His weaknesses and failures instruct us, his strengths inspire us, his legacy colours our plans for the future and our enjoyment of now.
So I walk down the road to his school. Sun blushes golden and dogs leap ahead through the harvested fields. I love this school. I come here when I need to think, when I need to listen, when I’m aching and broken inside and the voices clamour or the silence taunts me to despair. Sometimes, words come, audible to my spirit from the One Who made me. Sometimes, the silence says more.
Today, I sit in the door, on that support beam they added when schoolhouse turned to granary. Windows long ago boarded up, the pot-bellied stove crumbling to imperceptible rusted particles outside, the teacher’s house drug to nearby slough, where it waits in deadened silence.
I wonder what the school was like when he came. The wall still tells where the coats hooks mounted. That beautiful yellow door looks down like a guardian angel. Someday, I’d like to take it home, to remind me that only a door separates me from the life of eternity, and the sound from heaven travels through wood and dust.
Round the back, paint vanished, the etchings of once-little people still linger. His little sister carved her initials, along with three others, only known to those who love them and love their stories. And life is an etching—she’s gone too, a generation slipping into silence, their marks deep, though faded; signs for another group of children to read.
And these husks, echoing the stories of lives gone by; the remaining shells: their independent beauty engulfed by the significance of those who once sojourned there. They represent, call to remembrance, beckon the heart back to the old paths, and into the simple beauty still possible now.
The wind whistles low and soothing. Once, he drove the wagon to school, his sisters in tow; the only boy, the dutiful son. Now his sons and grandsons drive tractor and cart and combine through fields, happy heirs of an honest legacy, inheritors of the working man’s ethic and physique.
His sisters were cheerful, tiny women, making happy homes and secure children. Now, his granddaughters nestle little ones close, and make their nests resourceful havens, and wonder what nicknames he would have given the great grandchildren.
Some etchings lay forgotten, and some construct the next generation’s dwellings. It’s a makeshift lean-to, a nest to build and fill and empty, because we are earth nomads, after all. And beside the grayed scribbles of forefathers, we etch our names, we too were here, and it matters.
The wind moans, stirring dust, our haunting shells, reminding us that we are made for more, and we live this mystery of life leading to more life, the echo of the song our Maker sings over us.
In loving memory of Papa Collin