A Blank Canvas

I still remember the first time I saw my house. My then-boyfriend, Chris, and I had been house-hunting for several months and after losing a bid on a short sale had hung up our realtor pages. We were about to depart for an overseas vacation, anyway, and it seemed a good time to take a break and recharge mentally before going back into the trenches.

It’s hard to really stop looking, though, once you’ve started. If you spend all of your time watching HGTV, you’re already addicted to peeking inside other people’s lives to see how yours might fit in their space. But since we weren’t taking it seriously, Chris and I agreed that I’d go on my own to visit this last listing before our trip.

Love at first sight

The house was at the end of a cul-de-sac, one of Chris’ main criteria. He wanted his  kids to grow up the way he had, biking on the communal asphalt circle with tons of neighbor kids. Two stories, no basement, a loss in his column. It had good bones, and beautiful porches. I remember standing on the deck in the back and thinking to myself, “Yes, this will do.”

It was a 1.55-acre lot, a veritable parkland compared to the 1/4-acre lots typical in our locale. Most of it was fenced in. Along the right, a small run-off creek flows along the property, preventing close neighbors. The right was fully wooded, owned by a foundation with a limit against selling in my lifetime.

There was probably a good 1/2 acre of lawn fenced in the back alone. There wasn’t much to it, but boy there was a lot of it. A big shed sat smack in the back center. There were a few dogwoods scattered about and an oddly pruned holly tree immediately off the back deck. That was about it. No flowers. No shrubs. Just grass.

Room to grow!

The front had a lopsided fir of some type that reminded me of the type of tree around which Dr. Seuss’ Whos might clasp hands and start singing.  Another holly was planted virtually on the front porch. A disaster of pyracantha reared up on either side of the house’s front fence, which bordered the neighbors backyards, and strings of ailing forsythia faced the garage. A side yard nearly as big as my current backyard was shaded by nut-bearing trees, eliminating all possibility of grass.

An awfully big space for such sad, little forsythia.

“You might want to take a look,” I told Chris when I talked to him that night, a strange quiet overtaking me. He worked 24-hour shifts, and agreed he’d stop by on his way home the next morning.

“But what do you think of it?” he asked repeatedly. I wouldn’t answer. I wanted to see if he felt the same strange flutter in his heart that I did when he stepped out on that clover-filled lawn.

Against all odds, he did. So we went to see it again together. And then again, upon signing papers, with our mothers, both avid gardeners ready to sketch their own plans. After several weeks of bizarre obstacles (including a signing deadline nearly missed due to a Finnish desk clerk and a faulty fax machine), somehow, the house was ours.

It was quickly clear I'd be gardening on a much bigger scale than I was used to.

We have cursed it, we have praised our lucky stars, we have pledged to never mow grass again, and we have practiced the stories we’ll tell our children someday about the pull we felt that kept us from leaving this land. We sit out by the pond and tell ourselves stories about the next project, the next little room, the next thing we’ll grow.

Oh, did I not mention the pond? That’s because that’s an entirely different story.


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