To Live In Hearts We Leave Behind

My favourite pass-time has always been “remembering”. Some would say we should spend more time looking ahead than back. That may be so, but I got muddled at some point after I left elementary school. My childhood memories are crystal clear as a result.

My granddaughter Abby was visiting on the weekend. We were colouring and I was remembering Liann Michayluk’s 64-pack of Crayola crayons and was smiling at the memory of her very tidy colouring skills, her left-handed writing precise, a tail at the end of each word. We sat across from one another almost every year of elementary school. Liann coloured perfectly within the lines, a skill I hadn’t yet acquired at that time. I don’t do too badly now, I say with a boastful voice.

Abby and I began drawing our “pretend” houses, with a sun in the upper right corner of the page, smoke coming from the chimney of our house, hinting at a warm cosy fire inside, a flower pot in the window. I was quickly jettisoned back in time to a very happy place, of spending time “down the road” with the Sieders family. When I travel there in my memory it is always a happy place to land. Every single time I pull my sewing machine from the closet or pick up a spool of thread with a needle I think of Mrs. Sieders. I am instantly a little girl again, sitting in a corner on a chair with my knees pulled up inside my nightgown watching Mrs. Sieders sew late at night. She never scolded me for sneaking from the bed to watch her. She merely smiled at me, continuing with her creations. “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die,” said Thomas Campbell, a Scottish poet from days of yore, born 1777. I like to think that is true. I can see Mrs. Sieders hands guiding the fabric through her machine as clearly in my mind today as the image was more than fifty years ago. She inspired me then; she inspires me now.

As Abby and I were drawing our houses, I felt as though I was sitting at the table at the Sieders’ house upon which the children had rolled out a long piece of white mill paper, stretching from one end of the table to the other. Each of us found a spot along the table. On top was a stack of old Simpsons and Eaton’s catalogues, scissors, glue, and pencil crayons. We drew out the details of our “future” houses. We spent hours with our imaginations, creating rooms filled with toys and furniture and appliances, cutting the images from the catalogues to glue in each room of our imagined home. Sometimes we were quietly cutting and pasting and other times we were laughing and sharing stories. It was the best sort of fun to be had.

My best memories of those visits were in their original house, before Mr. Sieders built a new home for his family. I loved that first home, its simplicity, the comfort of its wooden floor, the hand pump by the kitchen sink, the stove pipe from the wood stove piercing the ceiling bringing heat to the bedrooms above. I felt pure in that house. I can’t think of a better word. Everything had a place. There was nothing artificial about it, nothing pretentious, nothing loud or intrusive. It was a home of the extraordinary kind, where kindness lived and generosity and patience, where children were taught to work hard, to give the best of themselves, to take nothing for granted. If only all homes could harbour such loveliness. Undoubtedly, I will visit those days again and again and …

wendistewart@live.ca