I pulled one piece of wood, then another from the stack in the woodshed and there it was painted in red, the initials JV.
We moved to the farm in 2014. I’ve been stacking wood in our woodshed for 8 years. But it was only yesterday that I saw the initials for the first time. I shake my head at how it is possible that I’ve never seen them before. But I know this kind of thing happens all the time.
I’ve lived in enough old houses to know that people leave their mark.
In one of the houses I lived in, I found an old leather shoe in the wall, put there for good luck. Another house had a newspaper with an article by Walt Whitman about John Astor in it. I’ve found empty packs of cigarettes, old coins between the floorboards, and names and drawings on bare plaster under the original wallpaper.
We haven’t dug deep enough in our farmhouse to find out what someone might have left in the walls, but this is the third set of initials I found on the farm.
HW is painted on the inside of the basement door in big bold red letters. I know who they belong to. Harold Walrath, the husband of Florence who lived in our house for over 80 years, until she was 104.
But I don’t know who JV was. And even though the initials are painted in red also, they look completely different than Harolds.
At first, I thought that the initials might not have been put there by someone who lived in the house. The boards in the woodshed look like they could have been reused. But then I remembered the initials DV that are carved into the door in the barn.
That “V” makes me believe that both initials probably belong to people who lived in the house before Florence and Harold bought it.
Every time I find a clue like this it makes me want to research the previous residents of the house. It can’t be too complicated since Florence lived here for so long.
Seeing the initials makes me think there’s someone who wants to be remembered. That there’s a story that wants to be told.
And I don’t mean something spectacular. For me, the stories of everyday life are enough. I find it interesting just to know who lived in a house and what they did for a living, how long they lived and where they’re buried. Through the early census, it’s easy to find out how the land was used and how many outbuildings were originally on the property.
I’m not even sure why I’m so interested. Except that knowing brings me a little closer to the people who chose to live in the same place I do now. Even though, because of the time they lived in it was a completely different experience than mine.
I guess it’s a way of getting to meet them.
For me, it also animates the house, thinking of the changes that were made and the things that have stayed the same. There are little clues everywhere that whisper to me like ghosts wanting to be known.