When I was growing up, one of our family’s favorite things to do was to walk around the yard. We had about three and a half acres of ground, complete with an old farmhouse, a U-shaped driveway, and a barn, used for parking cars not livestock.
Our walks would take us out to the barn which was covered in white shingles, hammered there one summer by my Dad and his buddy, Al Niggel. What a project that was. I remember how they worked on it the entire summer when I was nine and had my tonsils out. I also remember that I received my first pair of “tennis” shoes that summer, the beginning of comfortable shoes for all of us. Also, I learned how well lemons squeezed into a large pitcher of ice water could quench your thirst better than anything, thanks to Al’s advice. He told the best stories, ones he laughed at and enjoyed so much you couldn’t help but join in.
Then we would skirt the boundaries of the pasture, stopping to swing on an old swing set behind the barn that had been cemented into the ground so well that it will surely outlive life on this planet.
At the back end of our property was the “pasture,” a large plot of land that had nothing special going for it except that it needed to be cut all summer long but only after it had dried out from the winter. If the pasture was still wet, you could easily bury a tractor near the small creek that ran along one end of our property.
My Dad secretly loved cutting grass, I think, riding his Gravely tractor for hours at a time. Sitting atop the tractor meant he was not at the candy store we owned, where he toiled seven days a week, nine months a year.
The pasture ended in a steep uphill bank covered by pine trees. We always felt like Narnia or something quite as magical lay at the top of it. Actually the bank was made up of a few rows of pine trees planted by the former owner, an eye doctor who yearned for as much privacy as his acreage could give him. Guess it was in response to looking so deeply into so many eyes for so long.
One time we climbed up and into the rows of pine trees and found a rounded metal object, big enough to crawl into. Convinced it was from outer space, we kept a wide berth around it. To this day I don’t know what it really was. Maybe a miniature Quonset hut?
Then we would come upon the garden, after walking past the bocce court we had put in, with lights and everything. The garden area was huge, and at one point we had two gardens: one for us and one for my grandfather, who worked as a gardener for wealthy people in the town. We’d stop and rest on the metal chairs under the gnarled apple tree and look out over the compost pile. The chairs were right next to a rusty water spigot, which unleashed the foulest tasting water. That coppery tasting water is why we always had the water softener company (“Hey, Culligan Man!”) come to the house on a regular basis.
We would then walk through the lilac and orange blossom bushes which released such beautiful scents into the air. If we kept going there was another larger apple tree which had been fitted with a rope swing, and the greenhouse which we eventually had converted into a storage room. That’s where I kept my college texts when I came home from school.
The front yard faced the road, a dangerous downhill stretch of highway which did little to slow drivers as they approached a steep left-handed curve just below our house, the scene of many serious accidents over the years. Several vehicles, which failed to negotiate that dangerous curve coming up the hill, came to a stop in our front lawn, always leaving deep ruts.
Centered in the front yard was the grotto my Dad and my Uncle Pete had created from stone and which held a statue of Mary, bordered by prickly holly bushes. Turning back towards the house, we would pass the patch of pachysandra that grew in its confined space all the years we lived there and the six foot tall cement fountain that my mother had filled in with dirt as soon as we moved there. She didn’t want to have to worry about little ones ending up in the deep bottom when it was filled with water. On the back porch was my favorite thing: a two person swing. I spent countless hours on that swing, listening to the Beatles which we piped out to the porch from the record player in the living room.
I took a walk the other day in my own yard, which is short three acres from the old homestead. Still, the ground is bursting with new life. The forsythias are on their way out, but the rhododendrons are in full bloom. This year, for the first time in many, the buds and flowers haven’t been damaged by a late frost so everything is as it should be. Trees are budding, too, in and around the yard.
We are trying to grow grass again in our yard, always a challenge. Since we haven’t had the rain we normally get this time of year, the new grass is struggling. That’s today’s project: go out and water the seeds and hope they sprout. It will mean spending a lot of time outdoors in the yard, but then, it’s a family tradition.
By Teresa K. Flatley
Daffodils growing in my backyard.
Early rhododendrons in bloom.
Underbrush beginning to take over.
Deer have already gotten to my daylilies.
Empty pots awaiting summer flowers.