Permanence and Impermanence in an Old Barn

Few things illustrate permanence and impermanence better than poking around in an old barn. In the loft of the barn on my grandparents’ homestead is a woodworking shop. A tangle of vines reaches inside through paneless windows and wraps around beams and all the broken down odds and ends that litter the floor. On one of the tables my son found a sketch, something my grandpa drafted years ago. How long ago did he form this plan? What was his purpose? Did he ever actually build this piece that he depicted on paper?

Downstairs a feeding trough that was nosed daily by the horse my mother often tried to mount as a child stands as sturdy as ever. A grown man could stand in it and not budge it. The horse is long gone though, its name forgotten. It is the trough that remains, and it remembers. It bears teeth marks and harbors between its boards the grains that got away.

On the floor over in the corner is a Pepsi bottle that’s older than my lifespan. Who drank it? Did they forget about it as soon as they cast it to the floor? The bottle has not forgotten. It sits there all these years later, unmoved and bearing still the fingerprints of the one who enjoyed it.

So much is forgotten by us. If only these objects could voice their history, make even mundane facts seem fascinating. This is why I love the old places. They tell us with silent speech that we are here for only a short time, but that we leave behind things that others will pick through and perhaps ponder over. They tell us too that we’d better leave behind more than dust-draped hobbies and assorted curiosities.

This my grandparents did. I see grandpa’s industriousness in this barn and its implements, a quality he must have instilled in my mother tenfold. In the old house up the hill I see books stacked everywhere, all of them read carefully by a grandmother who never had a shot at college or career. Her passion for reading was passed on to her children and to her grandchildren in turn. These are some of the best things my grandparents left behind, things that gather no dust and never fall silent.

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