Mr. Lincoln’s curtains
Zero lot lines, a full spectrum of beige plastic siding and street names like Prairie View (where topsoil is shipped to Indiana farms) dot the landscape where I live.
My world is, in fact, the antithesis to anything even remotely familiar to that famously enshrined home on South Eighth Street in Springfield, so eloquently preserved by the National Park Service and known to locals as the Lincoln home.
Yet despite this dichotomy, there is a thread that ties them together, actually several threads, curtains to be exact, tattered, sun-bleached and lovingly displayed in our bedroom window. It does seem surreal that these ragtag buddies once hung in the Lincoln home. But they did, back in the day before South Eighth Street became a national landmark. I remember those days well, having grown up in Springfield giving any out of town visitors the requisite tour of Lincoln sites.
In my early teens the Lincoln home area was a sleepy hamlet unto itself with a few gift shops and a smattering of un-restored houses with historic plaques. It was a cozy refuge from the rest of town.
I do remember my first real boyfriend romancing me on the steps of one of those vacant houses. We held hands and watched the procession of Lincoln “pilgrims” snake their way into the home. Back then I would never have dreamed that the lacey panels seen through wavy glass would one day be mine.
These curtains were not historical replicas but faux, Victorian polycotton from places like Montgomery Ward or Sears. They did their job well until the preservation people evicted them. They were inauthentic and so became the orphan children of the ladies who guided people through the home. That’s how my former neighbor came to acquire them, bequeathing them to me. She said, “I know you will love these as much as Mary Todd might have.” And I did.
Originally, there were 24 pairs of varying lengths and designs. They quickly scattered like prairie seeds to various locations, never to be heard from again. I know some went to needy families. My own curtains hung for years in our hall closet until a few weeks ago. I went on a cleaning binge. There they were. I spread them out.
I was surprised to find no two alike. Each panel was from a different room in the home; no two lengths, patterns or colors were the same. These were curtains that I had been forbidden to touch as a visitor to the home, where they were roped off to the general public. I decided, by God, I was going to hang these curtains!
So now they sway in the breeze in all their quirky splendor. One curtain puddles at the floor while another panel treads much higher water. One is seriously sun-bleached and the fourth ill-matched. But somehow together they work; at least they work for me. I also know that somewhere along the way they shared the same residence as the man who cast a long shadow in the “Land of”. So in this suburban home modernity and history shake hands. The “prairie” never looked lovelier.
Marita Brake, musician/writer, resides in Bloomington with her husband and four feisty cats.