A few months ago I cut back the rose bush we planted two years ago. It was bleak midwinter and the spiky branches were dark brown and menacing, twisting high against the porch uprights where I’d wired them in place, hoping to create an arbor of red once summer comes. But prospective buyers wouldn’t understand the potential beauty of the prickly beast reaching toward the front door, and we won’t be here to see summer. We are moving from New England to Missouri, where our four grandchildren live. Life can be hard and grandmothers can help, so we are sacrificing our love of place for a greater love.
I clipped and snipped, wrestling the sharp branches into a trash bag. I checked the ground for pieces I may have missed, imagining tiny bare feet toddling their way around the house in the August heat. I don’t know who will buy the place. But I hope there will be children.
I don’t know who will buy the place. But I hope there will be children.
My wife and I purchased the house almost three years ago, using my meager retirement funds to rescue it from near collapse. Dolce and I made every decision together: every paint color, piece of tile and furniture position. As we tore down walls, we uncovered vestiges of the first family that lived here. A baseball bat. A pair of metal goggles. An ornate saucer. Our neighbor told us stories about the D. family, of the man who built the original structure and then expanded, of his son who took over and his son after that. Of the final son who built the last addition in which we now sleep.
Last week we posted a bed for sale online and by some strange magic the woman who came to buy it was the wife of that final son. She came with her teenage daughter and showed us pictures of the girl as a toddler, sitting on the bare wood floor of the addition surrounded by a golden cage of two-by-fours as the walls were erected around her. The extra space was built so that the child would have her own bedroom. I’m typing now in the place she slept.
The house declined in the years between the D. family and our own habitation. We cleared the yard of buckets of broken glass and discarded toys from the children who lived here immediately before us. Their childhoods were disrupted by broken marriage, anger and violence. Our neighbor spoke of toddlers playing in the street at night, and of a hot-headed teenager taking a baseball bat to a sibling’s new bicycle. The signs of this darkness were everywhere, but we’ve soothed the house, stroking its walls with paint brushes, filling in the punched places and pouring in a steady stream of peace.
We’ll patch holes and color walls and soothe the place with light, love and attention.
When I was a child we lived in quite a few houses, but one seemed enchanted. It was set on a large lot and vacated by elderly sisters who left behind a Victrola, a wooden crank phone hung on the dining room wall and a Hoosier cabinet in the kitchen. One side of the house bristled with blackberry canes. Nearby, a quince bush blossomed coral in the spring. A grape arbor separated the front of the yard from the fruitful rear gardens, which were planted with strawberry bushes and apple and plum trees.
Dolce and I planted strawberries our first spring in this house. Just a few, but they produced and survived the winters. That first summer I found wild blackberries growing nearby, and dug up a few runners to plant against our back fence. We didn’t get berries last year, but the thorny branches grew and multiplied. This year there should be fruit. I’d hoped to plant an apple tree or two on the border. Just enough to furnish us with fruit for the season and the freezer.
We built a fence around part of the yard. Future toddlers will be safe from the street — safe from broken glass, safe from violence. I imagine a mother and daughter picking strawberries for breakfast, and approaching the blackberry bush with cautious impatience, plucking the fruit and risking the scratches, hoping for enough to make a pie. I imagine a child circling the front porch, sniffing the red roses and not seeing my ghost picking up the thorny trimmings.
The corporeal me will be off creating another home. We have little to spend so it’s quite likely to be a place like this one, a house that experienced pain and humiliation. It might not be a safe place for children at first. But we’ll change that. We’ll clean up broken glass and mend fences. We’ll patch holes and color walls and soothe the place with light, love and attention. And then we’ll fill it with our grandchildren.
Maybe they will help me plant strawberries.