Wednesday, 15 August 2012
Marked for Life.
Here is the top of an oak sewing table. My father made it for my mother, long, long ago, when they were still at the stage of trying to impress one another. Last year my son put a glass of water on it, with the resultant white ring. He was apologetic when he realised the effect of water on old wood. I could have sanded and re-polished it, or even asked him to have a go at polishing and removing the stain himself, but I didn't.
Now, from time to time, I see the mark and am happy to remember that my son was here, sprawled in a chair with a glass of water. He's not here very often, after all.
Today something triggered a conversation with a friend about honourable stains, marks that are made by life, for life. So many of these are part of my home, part of my life, not pretty, but stained and scarred, marked with honour.
What makes honourable scars? I think it is the process of living, and the feelings and memories that are enshrined in the scars. Some might be created in anger, and there are places in this house which bear witness to powerful passions - yet I feel that these are honourable in their way, sad evidence of what can happen when parents are pushed that bit too far, and when everyone is exhausted. Cautionary tales.
Would I ever want to live in a place that was pristine? Well, actually, it might be quite refreshing once in a while, but it would also be impersonal, featureless, whereas this place is a home, built up over the years, scarred by the years, just like me. Full of memories.
The door-frame in the kitchen is notched with the growth records of the family and a few selected friends, including a dog. Every so often I paint around it carefully. Everyone seems to have stopped growing now, upwards at any rate, but nearly every time there are visitors in the kitchen they notice it and comment, and my sons still like to check that they were taller than their father by the time they were in their mid-teens.
There are marks and wounds throughout the house.
There's the place where the ballpoint pen leaked on the leather of a rather valuable desk, and I can still see my husband, dabbing at it ineffectually with a handkerchief loaded with spit, hoping that no one would notice.
There are a few hand-prints on ceilings where tall, teenaged sons tried to out-leap each other. At one point there were even footprints, too (on ceilings!) but the kitchen has been redecorated and now they are both over thirty they probably could no longer manage it. (I don't think they take much notice of this blog, but if you are reading this, my sons, this is not a challenge.)
The armchair in the kitchen, beside the range, has supported more bottoms than I will ever know. So many hands other than ours have come in straight from the garden and rubbed dirt into the chair arms. So many other muddy feet have scraped along the stretcher between the chair legs. For many years during my professional life I wrote about antiques. I know patination when I meet it. It takes a century of dirt and hard wear to build up glowing scars like that chair has.
Some of the more flamboyant scars have been repaired. There were teenage excesses that are better not recalled, but still lurking just beneath the surface....those incidents with the poker and the fire in the sitting room, for instance. Well, the brass poker is still badly dented.
There is still glue and solder on a carpet up in the attic where younger son spent hours assembling extraordinary circuits, and there is a chipped and scarred rocking horse who has been ridden too hard by generations before and after me. My grandfather stretched the leather reins, as did my uncle and my father after him, and they finally came apart while my sons were riding. Perhaps I should have it restored, have the scars painted out, the leather replaced for the grand-daughter now on her way. Or perhaps she should also hold the battered old reins used by her great-great grandfather?