Last weekend my husband and I made some real progress on the house. Outside, of course, and by my husband and I, I really mean my husband. He worked long and hard finishing up a cool new patio in the front yard, complete with a retaining wall and mulch garden; I managed to hurt my back plugging flower starters into pots. It didn’t take long before we had some visitors with whom to enjoy it.
In my last column, I wrote about my mystery garden, and, despite my lack of any green appendedges, the record-setting tomato plants that grew taller than my husband (6’7”). On Monday, I got proof! It’s both proof that tomatoes grow like they were auditioning for “Little Shop of Horrors” in my neck of the woods, and, that I pretty much don’t have anything to do with it.
My neighbor Carol Drazkowski stopped by with a faded Polaroid (pictured here) of her husband Lee, who passed away before I had the chance to meet him. As you can see, he’s grinning big with a bunch of tomatoes, plants heavy with fruit behind him but still towering over his six-foot frame. Carol’s house is just at the edge of our extra lot across the street, and each year we meet at the black-cap raspberries (maybe it’s just that if I can eat it, I’ll remember its name) along the fence and marvel at our huge tomato plants.
My house borders Merrick State Park, one of the great John Latsch land donations, and I really love learning about the history of the area. Last weekend we ran into the president of the friends of the park group (called TURTLES), and we talked about the old days, when Merrick was so full you could barely find a camping spot, when families would flock there to enjoy swimming and sunshine and the beauty Latsch left us. Apparently, long ago, there was even a golf course and, more recently, a bar-slash-general store inside the park.
I was thinking about this as I walked back up to the house to grab a watering can when a couple ladies strolled down the block. One was a relative of the last owner of our house, Leona Braatz. She’s Leona’s daughter-in-law, and had read my last column about the garden and wanted to see it. We got to talking about the past, showed her the walls we have knocked out inside to make the little place feel bigger. Leona’s bedroom was where our computer and aquarium now reside; the two kids shared the back room that we use as our bedroom today.
I told them about how, when we first moved in, I found hand-made fish hooks under the carpet and other little signs of the history of the house, and how much I enjoyed knowing about where our little abode came from. And I recalled the time, after I’d fumbled my way through garden caretaking for my first couple of years, when my neighbor Connie told me how happy Leona, who passed away before we bought the house, would be to know that her beautiful garden had someone who loved it again. It brought tears to my eyes.
It’s not every day that we get these little glimpses into the past. Oftentimes, when we do, we’re so busy with the NOW that we barely notice. It is nice to remember, though, that just about every little garden, every little house tucked against the woods has stories, rich little whispers of a time before we arrived. I think we can learn a lot if we pay attention. Sometimes, I can almost just see Latsch, dragging his canoe through the yard on his way to the river, his dog nipping at his heels.
(Then I notice my naughty dog is not nipping at my heels, but attempting to run off into the park in search of picnic baskets. No wonder I long for days gone by!)