The day I went to retrieve a small garden seat restored by former neighbor, Bill, I received a message from his wife Rosemary. She had been called in to sub at Fredrick Meijer Gardens at an outdoor Art Cart for someone suddenly unavailable.”If I’m already gone, I’ll leave it in the breezeway for you to pick up.” Workable, and I was eager to see her Bill’s woodworking skills applied, so continued to their home filled with memories, next door to the one I had sold years after my husband’s unforeseen, sudden death in his sleep years earlier.
In the breezeway I saw several objects I had left with them, but had forgotten over intervening years, like so much of that past life. A wave of nostalgia engulfed me, and I dared to look across at the door at the home shared so many of his last years with mylate husband who departed in his sleep. We had bought the higgledy-piggledy home sporting 5 outdoor exits from many add- ones for its gardening potential, though it appeared to have none of that charm remaining after the years of my new life away.
I had purchased my parents’ condo of 20 years when they moved to luxe living in a senior care center apartment in mom’s hometown in a neighboring state with two brothers and their tribes of children and grands accessible within two miles, either direction, who saw my dad through his final illness, mom visits on a nearly daily basis now at age 95.
Before: back to my former home and the pickup. The door was cracked open! My companion was warning and mortified as I went in to see what changes had been made by the buyer who resold it at huge profit to a scientist from halfway across the globe. Knowing from former neighbors that the man had just begun to move in but was at work all day. I decided to have a peek. I mean it was shrouded by bike path tress along the road at least 100 feet distant.I assure you.
I discovered with certainty “you can’t go home again.” The home charm had departed and a structural house shell remained. Rooms had been eliminated starting with the entrance sunporch with windows on three side, high ceilings that had accommodated the tallest Christmas trees, even ceiling skylights , so hard to clean or pull tricky shades with hooked, long poles. What else?
It was basically a white shoebox within. The new owner had placed suitcases, travel bags, a few grocery bags along what had been the multi-paned dining room window, no furniture yet. Were the rhododendrons restored after a heavy ice storm per my reading of those leveled in England, cut to ground by a successful post-WWII army of gardeners’ own blitz? I couldn’t bear to look out either wide window, dining nor living room to the front, lest I see that bleeding hearts, too, were staunched.
Opposite that front wall was a trendy sliding barn door I opened to two master suites on either side of a long hallway. Jutting out to the living room side ell, the French doors remained, though a wood burning stove, its brick dais below, and display brick wall and shelf behind did not.
Outside those doors, the charming deck with overhead trellis beams and built- in benches and nooks created behind seating, the site of many gatherings , particularly for Easter egg hunts for up to 60 with families…gone. A blank large concrete slab covered that area from house wall outwards, and only a covered round smallish hot tub offset midway on a smaller slab provided yard decor. Surrounding fragrant mature, tall lilac bushes had been surrendered fornthat hot tub spot I had once pruned annually, filling the house with lush fragrance. Gone! as was the raised annual garden the lilacs guarded from deer feasts between them and the deck.
Remaining: a clear view of a middling lawn surrounded at far end by renegade shrubbery, unpruned for years. Still at side border of property, beyond a line of shrubs that bloomed in vernal sequence was a credible view of tall trees guarding that neighbor’s 8-10 foot stacks: five years of firewood adequate for their wood burning furnace, grace of nearby retired grandpa who delivered trailer loads, tree cutting his hobby in retirement. A hot tub with a forest view, alive yet no longer charmed by a long perennial garden leading to our neighborly pass-through. A few brave asparagus plants gone to seed remained near the deeply buried bones of the cat who chose his spot after goodbyes from neighboring children ( and parents) passing with me petting him to the music of The Lion King Broadway version, mewing faintly whenever the disliked Disney version came on.
Occasionally I am overwhelmed by the effects on my body of postpolio sequalae of almost 20 years now, 20 more if I live long as did my forebears. The struggle to get even a single bulb or plant into the ground without jostling my uncooperative limbs…or potential dislocation. Or reprimands for unsettling soil, tho my plantings from my home to my parents were years are ‘ grandmothered ‘ in prior to ” flowerpots only” bylaws.
So I then garden- grub on the deck rail-hugger pots as I will today. It looks out over a channel (which I disrespect by calling it a ditch) where we –my husband of a year- plus–have identified more than 20 species of life, mostly the 3 dozen ducks who live much of the year here. He is an excellent photographer who has caught most of them in close-up from fish in water passing from nearby Grand River to a small lake to spawn, or a baby beaver, to a pair of hummingbirds capture digitally in mid-flight, their wings stilled.
There is an interesting placement of twin ponds with fountains across the ‘ditch’ at the care cottages of another condo village. Nothing floral nearing what I recall. In gloomy days which can multiply in cloudy West Michigan, I can now get downstairs to the big, yet cozy library my dad created during their two decades living here. There, next to a left-behind lounge chair, is my remaining photo scrapbook stash of My Secret Garden photospheres, others gone to my children and a brother who evolved to become the family archivist with a same-age cousin who shares his interest. Lou, hubby, photographed all pages before I parted with them, so a photo stick contains memories of. 35 years of family life, while two books do not require computer use for my fondest memories of life journeys moved on.