A Chalkboard, a Lighthouse and Other Cherished Articles

Three days ago, I pulled a well-loved and much-used treasure out of the garage and into the house for a good dusting: a very old chalkboard that I inherited from the farmhouse where I grew up near Port Rowan.  It’s not made from a thin piece of painted steel the way chalkboards are today.  This board was fashioned from a single piece of natural slate rock, carved two feet high by three feet wide, a good inch and a half thick and framed with wood.  It was in the house when my family moved there, before I was born.  Our parents forbade us to watch television (my brothers smuggled a prehistoric, tiny black and white up to their bedroom but it only stood on the bureau when hockey was on and was stashed under a pile of quilts when it was not) so the chalkboard, which hung from the dining room wall downstairs, served as a game board,


Chalkboard hangmanand self-promoting billboard.  At the age of nine, my brother Frank already knew the value of a fierce stage moniker on his path to the World Wrestling Federation.


Inevitably, it even served as a medium with which little imps pull hijinks on their sisters.  My brother John wrote the tag on the chalkboard in the following picture (minus the fragrant verb beneath), then told my sister Helen to stand next to it for a photo.  While she was busy arranging herself so that the camera would capture the arrow that pointed the eulogy to herself, John scrawled the word “stinks” below it and snapped the picture.  By the look on her face, she was about one second away from catching on to the prank when the shutter came down.


About seven years ago, my parents sold the farm and moved out of the house.  When I drove past it two years later, this is what I saw.

old version

The new owners, a semi-retired couple, had begun to tear it down.

It’s a shock to see your first home this way.  I knew it was an old house; it was old before I was born.  But it used to be clean, bright and filled with the smell of bread baking in the kitchen and the clamor of ten bratty Mennonite kids fighting, playing, living.  Now it stood desolate and wounded.  Dying, literally, from a lack of love.

I pulled over, turned the car around and went back to the house.  I stopped a short way up the lane and got out.  I wondered at the curious way in which the house was being taken apart, like an onion stripped away one layer at a time.  Why not simply demolish it all at once?

There was no one else about so I stole into the house.  That is, if stepping through a gaping hole where the front door once stood can be called stealing in.  Inside, I noticed a similar pattern.  I hadn’t expected the house to be neat and clean, but neither did I expect it to be gutted, exposing paint and wallpaper I hadn’t seen since I was four.  There were also other, strange colours, reminding me that the house had witnessed the happiness and tragedy of other family sagas long before I was born.  It was as if her new owners were dismantling her piece by piece.

When I’d picked my way through piles of rubble to the kitchen, I saw the chalkboard.  Standing against what was left of the kitchen counter, it was wrenched from its age-old station on the dining room wall and looked for all the world like one more piece of debris destined for the construction heap.


Grief replaced shock.  I seized a pen and scrap of paper and covered it with shameless, impassioned pleas to the persons in whose hands the fate of my childhood memories now hung.  I begged them not to throw the precious chalkboard out with the trash or sell it, but to return it to me, the true possessor of the cherished article in all but name.

Okay, so the real letter wasn’t quite as pathetic as that, (it contained no mention of “cherished articles”) but no reader could have doubted my wish to claim the chalkboard again.  I scribbled my phone number at the bottom, placed the page on the counter top, weighted it with a chunk of splintered wood and drove away.

Two weeks later, the owners called.  They hadn’t intended to throw the chalkboard out or to sell it at all.  In fact, they had meant to install it in a new house which was to be built almost on the very spot where the old one stood.  But (bless their dear hearts) after reading my letter, they could do naught but return the chalkboard to me.

Furthermore, every salvageable bit of the old house was being carefully removed so that it could be used in the construction of the one to come, from the ornate woodwork in the living room to the gathering of Styrofoam bead insulation into sacks as it poured from torn away walls.  The old house wasn’t dying at all.  She was merely breaking from her shell, tired and careworn from a century of Lake Erie winds beating at her walls and roof into a new one – bigger, stronger and more glorious than she had ever been before.

the new house

This photo doesn’t do justice to the sheer size of the new house, but if you focus on the doors on the first story, the rest falls into perspective.  The attached lighthouse towers forty-seven feet in the air.  It was built so that the lady of the house could enjoy the view of the lake where we spent every free moment of our childhood summers.

lake view_edited-1


I gave the chalkboard’s frame and ledge a fresh coat of paint when I brought it home but since then, it’s gathered cobwebs Chalkboard (chalk)in the garage, waiting for another chance to shine.  But I’ve finally found a project worthy of it – a place to use it where voices chime and sun shining through polished window panes floods the room with light and life once again.

More to come…


3 responses to this post.

  1. What a wonderful treasure!! And how kind of them to bless you with it and all the memories it holds. I’m so thrilled they reused so much from the original house!! Sounds like your old home was bought by lovely people.


    • Thanks Holly, they really are lovely people. It’s rare to find buyers who love and appreciate so many of the same features of your home as you do.

      It extends outside of the house too. There are a couple of ancient, tangled apple trees in the pasture that only produce tiny, ancient fruit. Us kids used to shake the apples down for the cows to eat. I was almost sure the new people would cut them down, but instead, they built a rustic wooden garden bench and put it under the trees to enjoy as a shady resting spot. 🙂


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