The woman who owned my home before me was an ambitious gardener. But not always.
The way I understand the story, from what she told me at our closing and the gossip I’ve gotten from my neighbors, goes like this:
Once upon a time she had lots of time for gardening and making art. There was a kiln in the garage and a hundred varieties of iris in the many gardens; antique roses, native wildflowers, handmade paving stones, hollow faux boulders, and a reclaimed brick patio. It must have been lovely at one time.
But then, apparently, she had a brain aneurysm. I guess the recovery was tough, and during that time, her husband left her with two young boys and no money. She eventually found herself a job in a very distant suburb. Such a long commute that she went ahead and enrolled her sons in the school of said suburb, so that they could at least be together in the car during the day. Needless to say, spending that much time driving back and forth and being a single mother left her little time to tend to her many gardens. Weeds were not pulled, perennials were not divided, dead branches were left to rot. Also, somewhere in there, she started working with a greyhound rescue, and had three of them in her home. A temporary wire fence cut her beautiful gardens right down the middle.
And so, this not being an ideal situation, she set about preparing to relocate for her job. The house needed a lot of work, and money was tight, so her father and her brother helped her to make some changes that they thought would up the value of the property. I believe many of the materials were recycled, reclaimed, purchased at garage sales, who knows. The front door still has the handwritten price, $3, scrawled on the edge. Every room in the house has a different kind of flooring. None of the light fixtures match, edges aren’t square, trim is missing.
And yet, when I saw the house for the first time, it just felt right to me. Maybe I sensed some kind of kinship with this woman and her story. Mine fell along similar lines. I didn’t even want to buy a house. I didn’t want to move, I didn’t want to start my life over. But I think that I felt that the house would be a forgiving house. It wasn’t perfect, in fact it was kind of a mess. And I felt like I fit perfectly in it.
And so, since it has been mine, I have slowly been regaining my confidence, finding my new identity, and it has been dragged along with me. That first winter, as I was getting used to being alone for the first time in my life, I kept my mind occupied and my hands busy by painting all the rooms on the first floor, filling the rooms with things that made me think of the future, or remember only the good times of the past. I painted my bedroom pink. And then, immediately hating it, repainted it my go-to creamy beige, and didn’t apologize to anyone for the inconvenience. I bought a white couch, because I had always wanted a white couch, and now I didn’t have to answer to anyone when it was covered in muddy dog footprints and spilled coffee.
And that spring I ventured out into the overwhelming jungle that the large corner lot had become. Those greyhounds were diggers. And runners. The yard was a mix of mud and creeping charlie, scattered with dog toys, plastic greenhouse pots, and garbage. The mulberry tree had spread its seeds throughout the yard and sprouted stubborn weed trees in the hedges and cracks of the patio. The gardens were choked with weeds and overgrown daylilies. So I set about raking garbage and leaves and hacking back mulberry bushes. I dug out all the salvageable perennials from four of the gardens, transferred them into the remaining three, then filled all the dog holes with the dirt from the raised beds. I had the mulberry tree and an ash tree that had been struck by lightning cut down. I broke my back hauling dirt, moving rocks and bricks. I called it un-gardening.
I planted grass seed and learned the trick to starting a stubborn lawn mower. And I learned to watch carefully as you mow, no matter how many bricks you’ve already dug out of the yard. I learned not to try to adjust the blade depth by grabbing the thing by its motor when it’s still hot.
I spent all my free weekends outside from morning till night and fell into bed exhausted at the end of the day.
And then I met Eric, and in the flush and fun of a new relationship, I put all these projects on hold. I lost touch with my strong, independent, impulsive Amazon self. Eric, being all male and strong, insisted on mowing my lawn for me, and I let him. I spent my weekends gazing into his beautiful mirror green eyes and pushing the kids on the swings. I replaced appliances when they broke, but otherwise did nothing to the inside of the house. The house has grown stagnant, and the yard is a mess again.
A year has gone by like this. And here we are, moving in together, trying to make this house that I had started to make mine, into ours. I can’t really get away with deciding to paint the family room at nine o’clock then staying up all night rearranging the furniture anymore. Now paint colors must be discussed and time set aside. Other tastes must be considered. Room must be made for collections, for art, for books, for feelings, for personal space. There’s someone else who cares now.
And caring is good. Right?