Every Home is a Museum
In the past five years my wife and I have been evacuated from our home three times from either wildfires or flood. Yes, I know, maybe we should examine relocating to a different locale, but,in watching what is happening around the world I am not certain we would find a place that would not provide the same situations (floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and other conflicts seem to be effecting nearly any locale at some time or another.)
With each of these evacuations we have been faced with what items of material history are most important to us to attempt to save. The inventory of pets, important documents (insurance forms, tax records, wills, &c), medications, and family photographs are standards to be removed from the house. In the early evacuations we tried to save ‘everything’, sometimes to an extreme. During the packing as a major fire moved in on our home I was endeavoring to pack my entire library of over 4700 books, periodicals, computer materials into a horse trailer that friends had brought to the estate. As the flames and smoke came closer and closer I was tossing books through a window into the trailer as my wife and friends continually told me, “it’s time to leave!” Finally, in desperation, one of my champions came into the house, lifted me up and carried me to my car, needless to state, this is a very large and powerful friend. This as the fire trucks were coming onto the homestead to set up a last stand defense against the flames.
In this case, the house was spared , but I spent months cleaning and restoring of smoke and ash from their pages and covers.
In our evacuation last September from flooding, I left the books behind. My wife and I chose other ‘valuables’ that seemed to have more worth to us. Again, the house was spared. The books staid behind and are requiring attention for the next few months to remove some mold from their pages and covers.
It amazed me what seemed important years ago had changed in priority.
In cleaning up after the flood and observing the debris and materials that were scattered about I recognized that so many things were now on site that were once valuable to their original owners and now had a new status; archaeological remains, and trash. Fishing line, leach field piping, roof remains, old signs, shingles, bits and pieces of buildings, old carpets and matting, a child’s ripped and torn swimming pool, broken fishing poles all have become trash to be removed. But what about the six pastel 36B cup bras that I found neatly stacked in the sand? Were they in a suitcase or drawer that washed upon my land? Were they part of an important inventory of a young lady upstream? The broken decal covered snowboard, now broken and silent that ended up against our pump-house valve, was it a special Christmas gift? The goose decoy; how many hunting trips did it travel? The pair of leather fringed “Indian” pants from a doll and the antique knife that more than likely came from the Indian Village shop up river (now gone), what story hides in their remains?
Recently, my business partner and dear friend had to go to her parents’ home in Nebraska to settle her parents’ estate and clean out their house, a house that once was the core of the family. Its contents were sorted by her, hers siblings, spouses and other family members. Each item had to be assessed as to its value, not as a financial gain, but as a memory asset. What photos would go where, what tools, books, memories were to be saved and which would find homes by donation, and which would be determined trash for some land fill and a future archaeological dig. It was, and is, a daunting task as it is not yet finished.
Some of the treasures she told me about are amazing! These are stories she needs to tell to others, but will also remain as a ‘museum’ for future generations of the family.
As an historian and anthropologist I have regularly dug sites that offered stories from material remains. Each was a personal item to someone at some time. Each offers stories to be told, not tall tales, but stories of people who lived breathed, worked, loved, hated, lost, and gained in their individual ways and worlds to exist as part of our heritage.
Each home is a museum whether a manse or hovel, apartment or loft, simple bungalow or large family home, tent or cabin with its scars, paint layers, hidden graffiti, growth marks on the door sills, worn floor boards, and dings in the walls telling their own tales.
And the loss of any of these reliquaries, whether by storm, fire, flood, neglect, conflict, or other disruption is a loss to the world.
When we recover these ‘museums’ and illustrate their pasts we often for get the human element and concentrate on the material things during tours. It is a pity that walls can not speak out loud as their perspectives might be much different than ours as to what was important in their life times; laughter and sorrow, the sound of voices, the smells from kitchens, the care of a fresh coat of paint or wall paper, the need for a leak repair, the odor from Christmas trees, the smell of smoke from lamps and fire boxes, the shutter of cold winter days, the scurry of toes of a rodent, the solemn traditions of Sabbath, singing, quiet footsteps on stairs slipping down to the kitchen for a midnight snack, the alarm of a early morning phone call…
If walls could talk.
Enjoy your personal museum and share their stories.
John C.F. Luzader
Vice President of Programs