Burning down the house

It’s been said that the best way to understand how something works is by taking it apart. In this case, I suppose one way of getting to know someone and the workings of their mind would be by deconstructing their work or artwork. It’s kind of like interpreting a song, painting or poem…it’s a way to look inside someone’s mind and heart.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve been helping my parents take down one of many houses that my grandfather built years ago, with his own two hands and mostly all on his own. As we’ve been demolishing this house one beam, patch of drywall, and a patch of tile at a time, I’ve caught myself reliving some childhood memories of spending summers, weekends, and every holiday there – of course, with the whole family present.

The house was originally helped put together by my mother and father, and my aunt and her husband who the house was originally built for about 30 years ago. The house was afterwards occupied by my grandparents, and after that my cousin lived there for many years. Its been home to almost all of us. Now, the house is being taken apart by my parents who originally helped build it, and their next generations.

I’ve found that this time spent with my parents working on something for our future generations to enjoy is carrying out the juice that was behind all of my grandfather’s hard work. I also assume the satisfaction I get out of helping my parents is similar to that of what they felt as they helped construct it all those years ago.

My parents just retired early this year, right before the pandemic hit us here at home. Their plan had been to sell their home in the fall and build a new home on the 50-acre lot that’s been in our family for generations. My grandfather grew up on this property as the youngest of eleven children, and his dream was to create a sort of eternal place of peace and connection for his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and future generations to come.It is a sanctuary of familial love for all of us, considered our home, resting place and just about the closest thing to heaven on Earth.

Since the pandemic, plans were slightly adjusted for my parents. With all this spare time on everyone’s hands, we decided to demo the old house where my parents plan to build their new home…with our own two hands- carefully and with gratitude, just as it was put together. Besides, it was a way to save money, keep active and occupied, and get them outside and spending more time on the property.

The job has already been long and tough with still a bit of a ways until total demolition. However, it has been so rewarding in the most surprising and unexpected ways.

As we take the house apart, one 2×6 at a time, carrying each individual piece of wood over to the burn pile (just as it was once carried one piece at a time when the house was being built), each rafter burns with the essene of a sacred fire; containing the spirit and energy of all relations who once lived on the land. As we continue to work, our energy is now being put into the land as well…we are becoming a part of the whole.

I learn more about my grandfather every day, whose voice I haven’t heard in 13 years.I relive memories and conversations we had about the ponds or the fields, memories I didn’t even know still existed in my mind.

Looking back now, I understand why my Papa did the things he did. While tearing out the drywall and uncovering his makeshift plumbing and mix-matched materials I can see that he was a brilliant man of improvisation: an outside of the box thinker. But, what I learn most and more about is that it was all with one goal in his mind, heart, and callused hands: to create a forever home for his family no matter what the obstacle.

My grandfather continues and will always continue to live through the land that he brought to life for all of us.

Today, many of my family members have returned to the property to start building their lives there, just as my Papa would have wanted. All of us are connecting with not only the land but also each other in both long lost and new ways. The love for the land is living on.

My grandfather was always teaching us about something- anything. The cycle continues as we all work together, continuing to breathe life into the land with new memories to tuck away into the corners of our minds. Papa continues to teach us all after being physically gone for all these years.

My brother wrote a song about my grandfather and the land that goes:

“Don’t worry daughters for my blood runs in those waters; And sons my bones hold up those homes; My skin is in the plains and my flesh is in that soil; My artwork is that land”

He lives on through us as we work his fields and tend his homes as will we through our children…and so the cycle continues.

Nya:weh Gord…for always teaching me, and continuing to teach me. I never thought I’d get the opportunity to get to know you more after you passed…but you always were a brilliant man of innovation who found a way to make something work, one way or the other.

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