Relics of the Past

On our wanderings through the Connecticut countryside this weekend, we came across many old stone walls, remnants from our agrarian past when early settlers cleared the land of forests in order to do their planting.  As they cleared more and more land, they exposed it to the freezing temperatures without the benefit of the natural mulching effect of the fallen leaves.  This freezing brought more and more glacial boulders to the surface.  The settlers, at first, simply stacked these stones to get them out of their way but then found they could also be useful to form boundaries for ownership or livestock or different crops.

These stone walls were not mortared, so they could not be very tall.  Most are only thigh-high. However, because they were not mortared, they have survived, whereas mortared walls have crumbled when the mortar decayed.  Most of the stone walls run through forests now as the agrarian economy faded and the fields were once more reclaimed by the trees.

I love to look at these stone walls and think about the people who built them so long ago, back in the eighteenth century.  They gave no thought to their efforts being a testimony a couple hundred years later to their hard work and ingenuity.  They were simply finding a way to make life work for them given what they had to work with, and yet here, so many years later, I am witness to those efforts.

When my father was dying, I sat with him and we talked about his life.  I recounted the time when he built our garage from scratch.  I was only about six, but I had a very clear picture of him sitting astride the rafters with his hammer, tanned and shirtless in the summer heat, muscles bulging as he swung that hammer again and again.  I thought he was the strongest and most handsome man alive.  As I sat at his bedside that day, his last, I told him that every time I returned to our old neighborhood, I looked at that garage and marveled that after more than fifty years, its walls were as straight as when they were first constructed.

“What you have built is still standing, Dad, stronger than ever.  What you have built will last.” I was speaking of his family, and we both knew it.

My brother, Dad, and I in front of the garage he built

My brother and I

Life is a balancing act, like the stones in those rock walls.  There is no mortar that will hold everything together.  We have to choose the right fit, piling one stone atop another, one decision, one accomplishment, one goal, one dream atop another, and hope it all holds together.  Just as in those walls, there is never a perfect fit, but there doesn’t have to be because, if enough are placed just right, the rest will hold up.  Chinks in the wall are perfectly acceptable.  In fact, the chinks, instead of mortar, are what make it strong.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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41 Responses to Relics of the Past

  1. Pingback: Distillation of You | merlinspielen

  2. Pingback: Boundaries | merlinspielen

  3. Love the conclusion. Beautifully written!

  4. Leah says:

    Love the photos! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Sweet photos and such a great story and memories of your dad. Made me so teary, Susan.

  6. And sometimes there are stones which need to be discarded. Such a wise, beautiful lesson from countryside walls, thank you for sharing! I love the pictures. 🙂

  7. oldereyes says:

    Hi, Susan. Very nice post. Love the pictures. A sa Connecticut native, I always loved the stone walls, as did my Mom. When we moved to our own house in East Haven, one of the first things my Dad did was build on across the front of our yard. Of course, it’s still there, even though he’s gone, too. Right now, I feel like my life is not only missing mortar but a few rocks, too. I’m hoping your metaphor is right.

  8. I love the metaphor of the stone walls with no mortar vs. the stone walls with mortar. The entire post is very thought provoking. What a wonderful memory of your father and love the pictures of you and your brother! Thanks Susan…

  9. One of my favorite things about CT is the stone walls. I have to admit, I do have a thing for stones and it’s nice to see them showcased.
    My father was rather handy too, he finished the basement and helped build the 3 season porch onto the house.
    The pictures of you and your brother, are they 2 years apart?

  10. You and your brother in front of the garage your dad built! I love your metaphor and all the memories, stone by stone. And your daughter and niece married a man like your dad? Thank you for such a heartfelt and heart built post.

  11. Amy says:

    Taking us from the stonewall to your story of dad and to your sentimental moment is more than beautiful. The last paragraph will be my guide… Thank you so much, Susan!
    And, thank you for sharing your precious photos!

  12. Again, great story and photos to match. My husband’s family is from upstate PA and their land is just covered in those beautiful stone walls. I am proud to say my husband has built some around our house as well…a little country in the city never hurt anyone. I especially enjoyed the love and appreciation you expressed for your father…indeed a good man.

    • Coming East says:

      Where did your husband find enough big stones in the city, LWTTD? And what is considered upstate in PA? I thought it was just east and west? Thanks for your sweet comment.

      • He actually brought them home from Gibson, PA. It is about 30 minutes north of Scranton and 20 minutes south of Binghamton NY. He built a small wall out front and another in our yard.

  13. Huffygirl says:

    Well put and inspiring Susan. Love the old photos. Interesting that I remember watching my dad build our garage too, which also still stands. And they did it without the benefit of big box home improvement stores like we have today.

    • Coming East says:

      Wow, HG! I love that you and I share that memory of our fathers. My dad was an engineer, so he drew up the plans for the garage, bought the supplies, and did everything himself, including laying the concrete foundation. He was very resourceful. My daughter and niece married men like that.

  14. Patty Hood says:

    I was very moved reading your blog. What wonderful photos! I look forward to hearing many more stories from your past in person. Patty Hood

  15. Shary Hover says:

    What a powerful metaphor. One of my regular walks takes me along a low stacked stone wall that was built in the 30s by the CCC. I’ll appreciate it that much more now that I think of the families of the workers who helped to build it and how that job put food on their tables.

    • Coming East says:

      Thanks for your comment, Shary. Our Riverwalk in San Antonio was built by the WPA workers, and I always thought of them when I was downtown walking along those stone walls.

  16. Al says:

    Wow, Susan. That is some sentimental, thought-provoking remembrance of a hero in your life, absolutely beautifully written. One can see the strong character in his face. A pleasure to read.

  17. I absolutely love this post! Stone walls are amazing in themselves, so intrinsic to New England woods and countryside, but alongside the picture you painted of your father building that garage — amazing and beautiful words. Then to tie to it to life’s balance — gorgeous writing!

  18. winsomebella says:

    I love this post…..thank you.

  19. Your post is wonderful. Memories of my Dad are flooding into view now and my heart is both saddened and encouraged. Foundations are so important, and I think we both received a good foundation from our Fathers. I believe since our foundations were strong we have the ability to pass on strong foundations, it is my hope that someday our children will write about the strength and ability we have placed in them. Thanks for the post.

  20. Dor says:

    Oh Susan, this is such a beautiful post. You have brought memories of my own father back and the same feelings. “I love to look at those stone walls and think about the people who built them so long ago” is your line that just says it all about imagining the fathers and mothers who came before us and their accomplishments, one stone at a time. The pictures of you and your brother are so precious too. Thanks so much for sharing.

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