Inspired by lines from T.S. Eliot's poem "East Coker," Richard Quinney contemplates in this memoir his family's artifacts and their final disposal when their generations-old farmhouse in southern Wisconsin must be vacated. In the attic were the spinning wheel, baby beds, quilts, the cradle scythe, framed paintings and photographs, sets of dishes and silverware, and the rosary beads that served the author's great-grandmother for a lifetime. The basement held tools, sleds, milk cans, barn jackets, canning jars, and the workbench. On the front porch were the emigration trunks that contained scrapbooks, photographs, farm ledgers, diaries, and souvenirs. The cupboards, dressers, and closets were filled with the material things - of parents and children - from the years of the living. Once valued and saved by his mother and father, and then passed on to Quinney, every object holds a story and a memory. "A Lifetime Burning" asks how people are to let go of the objects that once were important to the lives of their ancestors.
Richard Quinney continues to document the rise and fall, and possible preservation, of the family farm in Wisconsin. His autobiographical books include Where Yet the Sweet Birds Sing, Tales from the Middle Border, Of Time and Place, Things Once Seen, and Field Notes.
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