Vol 13, Num 15 :: 2014.07.25 — 2014.09.04
When Karla dropped off a classic red wagon for the rummage sale, we were delighted: it would be a perfect vehicle for hauling goods around the massive historic elementary school we’ve inherited, for better or worse, as the headquarters for our community development work in Three Rivers, Michigan. It was put into service immediately, with a bucket of water, rags and homemade glass cleaner for the cleaning crew moving down the hallway. Also joining the permanent collection at the Huss Project: a red birdcage (future chandelier?), a crock pot, seven matching purple vases, a campfire popcorn popper and a set of 30-ish dishes.
I wonder sometimes if this space is, in part, just an excuse to keep lots of cool stuff — old desks and interesting books and fabric scraps and an antique cash drawer and an old-school overhead projector. Our own basement at home can attest to our packrat tendencies (I’m sure we’ll re-use that dismantled oak staircase…someday). But by far, the most significant artifact we have is the school itself: a 27,000 square-foot building on four acres of land that holds not just our trashy treasure, but decades of individual and collective memories.
Throughout this issue of catapult, thoughtful writers wonder about what will happen in the future to the stuff that they find so meaningful now. Will anyone see its value or will it end up in a dumpster alongside rotten food and construction debris and VHS tapes? The apocalyptic scenario is less likely if the object in question continues to be part of a story, if that plate or that brooch or that book continues to exist in relationship with the five senses of a living generation.
And that is an immediate task for us as we deepen our understanding of the fact that sentimentality is not enough to sustain the structure that has come into our stewardship. Would that we could patch a roof with nostalgia or upgrade an ancient heating system with fuzzy memories of kindergarten — in that case, we’d be golden. In the absence of such magic, a new story needs to be born within the shell of the old if this place is to retain its value.
And so we throw parties with 600 of our closest friends, like we did last weekend for Huss Future Fest 2014. We commission commemorative poems and paint murals and grow potatoes. We host campfires and potlucks and service groups and an extended family of pigeons in the old boiler. We raise blueberries and hops and worms and garden sheds. We grow vegetables and friendships and imagination. We tend and keep, plant and harvest, celebrate and lament, all the while wondering, as the mortar erodes and the seals rot, whether history is on our side.
Someday, we’ll tell the new kids about Ms. Karla’s wagon or why that random room is referred to as “Kate’s Office.” We’ll regale them with tales of the winter of 2014 when members of that original community spent many of their waking hours on the roof shoveling off feet of snow and stringing pantyhose full of rock salt down the drains. We’ll explain why so many consecutive years of photos show the word IT painted on the brick façade. In the meantime, we’ll prune the plums and save columbine seeds, patiently pursuing the regeneration not just of the building, but of the land, and trusting that in the healing of these spaces, we will discover our own healing and catch a glimpse of a life that is beyond time.