Monday, April 28, 2014

Mapping the Past

Every writer puts some of their own life in their books. This might seem challenging if your book happens to take place on Mars, but it turns out not to be the case. Writers depend much on research, but they can’t help drawing from their own experiences.

In the forthcoming book, The Crappy Used Diary, an important component of the book is an old family house located in a fictional river valley. In my real life there is a similar house in a similar valley, and this week marks a big event in that house.

My great grandparents, Nels and Emma Just came to Idaho as teenagers with their parents in 1863. They would not have thought of themselves as that, because the word “teenager” wasn’t invented until the 1920s. They married in 1870.

In 1887 they built a brick home near the banks of the Blackfoot River in eastern Idaho. To celebrate the completion of the home, Nels hung a brand new map of the United States in the hallway. It has hung there ever since, admired by generations of Justs, Reids and visitors to the house that was the life-long home of regional writer Agnes Just Reid, my great aunt.

Tomorrow, the map comes down. I cannot stress enough the consternation this causes for family members, none of whom have ever seen that bare hallway wall. The map is a touchstone across the years to Nels and Emma.

We will be taking the map down with reverence and the help of a textiles expert. Over the years, the 4’ x 6’ map has been damaged by hands that wanted only to touch it, learn from it and feel the past. The varnish, commonly applied to maps of that vintage, has yellowed and the map is flaking in places. It is in need of restoration.

We’ll be shipping this treasure off to New York City for the specialized work of bringing it back to life. When we get the restored map back, it will be professionally mounted behind conservation glass in a solid display case. After a little tour to selected places in Idaho, it will find its way home where it will once again hang in the hallway for generations to come. 

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