The book I’m currently reading is a novel titled "The Guest Book" by Sarah Blake. It’s the tale of a New York clan who once bought a small island in Maine. It was inexpensive to buy in the 1930s, but the present day heirs are having a hard time hanging on to it.
The story reminded me of my own family’s inability to hang on to a beloved Massachusetts farmhouse bought by my great great grandfather in 1873.
My favorite souvenir from that much loved place is an old guest book which my great uncle bought for the house in 1907. Victorian friends and family wrote poems and included sketches as a thank you for their visit to the place we called simply "The Farm."
My mother signed the guestbook many times when she was a child. In 1932, she included my name, signing in for me when I was only six months old.
At three or four I signed myself with wiggly capitals: J EA N. My writing improved each year we visited until finally I signed in handwriting Jean Adair Milholland. My brother and younger cousins followed the same pattern.
Leafing through that guestbook brought back the smell of hay in the old barn and the smell of gingerbread in the back hall. I remembered the thrill of helping my great aunt skim the cream off milk that was stored in big pans in an ice chest in a back cellar. Later, I helped to churn the cream into butter.
With a sigh, I came to the end of the old Massachusetts guest book. Then I picked up the one I’ve been keeping during the 37 years I’ve lived in my present California house.
I flipped the pages, stopping to read many notes from friends and relatives both living and deceased. On his first visit my brother wrote to say our house reminded him of "The Farm."
I was delighted.
Our son and his wife were living in an apartment on this place when my granddaughter was born. About three years later, she came back on a visit and wrote her name in crooked capitals.
We have had scenes from several movies shot on the property. Not being too handy with a camera, I didn’t take many pictures, but did ask the stars to sign my guest book.
Among other names, I have Keanu Reeves, Anthony Quinn, Jennifer Anniston and Kevin Costner who were all willing to sign and say a few nice things about the time they spent here.
Also included in my guest book are programs of parties we’ve had at the house—some for ourselves and some to benefit local organizations such as the Art Center and the Peninsula Symphony.
Remembering those parties and the friends who came to them stirred up many happy memories from the past.
I hope you have a guest book, too.
If you don’t, you should run right out and get one. Of course with the coronavirus still roaring, most of us are not having guests right now. But the time will come when we are all back to normal. And the names of friends and families in a book will be nice to have as a memory of good times enjoyed in your house.