I went to college in Iowa. That meant that I became well acquainted with airline travel. On one trip I remember making a little mark in the plastic under the window with my fingernail. Nobody would ever notice it, and even if I were to sit in the same seat, on the same plane, I would never find it again. But somehow or other, knowing that I had made some little tiny mark, left some little tiny speck of myself, seemed important.
The urge to make a mark seems to be irresistible for the young. I wonder why that is. It hints at something more profound than youthful irresponsibility, though there may be some of that involved. It doesn’t seem to suggest intimations of mortality on the part of the young, because that’s a sentiment more fully developed in the old. Maybe it’s that the elders in their busyness can overlook the inner and outer lives of the young, who go around defacing things as a way of saying “Hey, I’m here! Notice me!”. Or perhaps it’s just that kids have a more visceral connection to the places they are in, and need to express it directly.
One can spend years in a house as an adult and not see the graffiti, but children see things differently. They’ve got the time to notice things, and those things can become embedded in them. This bit of graffiti is part of the inner iconography of my life. It is in what used to be a back bedroom, a tiny, unadorned room, probably bitterly cold before the introduction of central heating. The name etched into a pane of glass in the lower sash of a window on the north side of the house was just the height of a child. Did some other long-forgotten child inscribe his or her name? Who was it?
For the longest time I thought it might spell out “White”, but now I wonder if it is the name of one of Jabez Bacon’s granddaughters. There’s a daughter of Jabez’ son Garry named Orphia Jane, who was born in 1819. Was this her bit of graffiti? Did she visit and do this? Or is it somebody altogether different? Etching names in windows seems to have been a neighborhood pastime – the Glebe House Museum across the street has a pane covered with signatures, and it was not uncommon elsewhere.
A last bit of youthful mark making can be found in the privy, where the son of Everett Marvin, the owner of the house from the 1920s until 1953, drew an Indian and his bow. Over the years the pencil has faded and the image is almost invisible, but it has provided a link from one generation of children to others.