Autographing the farm

Autographing the farm
by John Heim  
Dan 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.