Pleiss called me over to the west wall of the garage at the
watermelon feed last summer to show me something my father Ron had
written years before and it was probably the last of many different
sets of markings that I remember being scattered across the
Henry/Ron Heim farm as I was growing up.
There were eight outbuildings on the farm. This created a
broad canvas for random scrawls that collected over the years. Most
were names and dates. Some were painted, some were scratched, some
were tapped with a hammer and nail but most were carved with the
blade of a jackknife.
The narrow alleyway in the granary/corn crib was our Louvre,
rogues gallery and family chronicle. The wall there was covered with
names and dates of people, some long gone by the time I was growing
up in the 1960’s-70’s. There were autographs of my older/younger
brothers and sister, grandparents, great grandparents,
cousins, Dad’s uncles amd even Mom. City cousins and friends from
town were asked to contribute. As time went on, Ron’s
grandchildren’s names were added as they came to visit Grandpa.
How delicious it was to carve your name into that old wall and join
the community of rogues that had left their marks over the ages! We
felt just like the early men who left hand prints in the caves they
lived in. By 1990 it was difficult to find an empty spot to mark.
Great care was taken in design and execution. There was more
than one botched or aborted attempt and the lesson learned was that
sometimes you’re stuck with the mistakes you make and they don’t
go away. Generations of family and friends had left their mark some
two, three or four times and some better than others. It was a great
way to learn about family genealogy and community connections. I
remember the most beautiful autograph belonged to “O.A. Allen
1902” carved in a three-dimensional script into the rough gray
barn boards. Dad said he was a hired man.
The majority of the autographs were Ron’s. He had a name
and date somewhere in almost every building on the farm (he lived
there 60 years of his 66 years) but the granary had his name in many
places. Some were clear at the top and some were at eye level and a
few were down low with the names of smaller folks he’d done when
he was their size. His autographs were always neat, tidy,
well-proportioned and some of the dates seemed to loosely coincide
with events of his life—1941 when he graduated from high school and 1951 when he moved
to the farm are the two I can remember offhand.
As I grow into senior citizenship I often wonder why he did
it. Was it to mark his territory or practice woodcarving? Could it
be because he thought the old rickety buildings would last forever
and someone would always be there to read the names and dates?
Remember Ron’s writing on the garage that Dan pointed out?
It was the locations of all four of his children in December of
1976. Claudia–Arlington, Virginia, Jim–Lincoln,
John–Jefferson, Iowa, and Paul at home. Really, it was just any
other day, but maybe one he wanted to remember.