My Vineyard- 17
by Fae Kontje-Gibbs
As I sit on the threshold of the back kitchen door, my feet perch on an old granite marker stone laid on its side, and my chin rests in my hands. I survey the backyard of my new home. My home. My very own home. Bittersweet, chinaberries, and hard-to–pull-out pricker vines twine and mass between the oak and sassafras trees.
Cardinals dart into hidden nests. Tree stumps erupt from churned ground. Up Franklin Street beyond Daggett Avenue, I can see the yards of nearly a dozen neighbors. It is raw, and I am ready to make something of it and let it make something of me.
I am 29 years old when we move in. Reade, my daughter, is not quite four, and hasn’t yet talked me into our first dog, Clipper. That, like so much, lies ahead. Yet it is immediately clear that, before anything else, we must make a garden. Our friends help us. Tom and Lisa come with bags of peat moss, composted cow manure, and lime, tossing it with flashing pitchforks into four raised, fluffy beds. Farmer girl Amanda rain dances us around the edge of every plot. Little Martha Abigail’s mom, Carol, introduces us to “no-guilt-gardening.” Ruth, who paints, brings baskets full of sedums and blue balloon flowers, and from father Terry we get gracefully arching goose necked loosestrife. Armloads of orange day lilies from Fat Tony’s Barb claim a corner under the big casement windows at the front corner of the house.
Over time, weeks, months, seasons, years, it all fills in; not only with plants but with children, dogs, cats, guinea pigs and homing pigeons. Cedar mulch paths thread between easily grazed tangles of cherry tomatoes, sugar snaps, and string beans. Lack-leaved Cosmos brush round cheeks. Herbs grow within a brick circle at the center, and an arbor of branches is draped with more peas. A tree falls down, making way for a studio to be built on its spot. Four shoots of bamboo, gifted by Tinker Rogers from his grove on Indian Hill, gradually spread into a forest, screening others’ yards from view. A fence is built; a baby boy, Max, is born. A pup is brought home and grows into a dog. A dog grows old, and eventually the hole he digs for lying in becomes the place where the white dogwood is planted in his memory. Elsewhere a tree house is built from scrap and salvage in among branches and vines, where nesting cardinals dart, red flashes, in and out of sight. A new puppy comes to herd us as her own. It is my son who talks me into this one. Two pigeons become ten, flying brilliant white against the blue, tilting out over the harbor before swinging back to home. A falcon comes and eventually takes us back down to two, then one, until finally even he, the first, is gone. The coop gets moved around back, to store hoses, buckets, tools and planks; anything that ‘could be used for’ this or that.
Eventually, the boy and girl grow tall, the thicket is cleared, and some trees are cut down. Garden gives way to lawn, a shed backs up against the fence and a fire pit is laid between studio deck and thorny blackberry canes. A brick walkway leads from front to around back. Bamboo grows tall, and friends come to harvest it for their own gardens and homes.
The boy goes adventuring, and it is I who throws the ball for his dog. The girl finds her calling, and her husband. They build a home, a family, a life of their own. It is close. It is not far away. Soon there are grandchildren running in the grass out back, just where I had once imagined them. Somewhat squishy soccer balls get kicked into the ivy, and old tennis balls get hit (some of the time) with Wiffle bats. A white rope hammock swings between the bow and stern of its metal stand. Morning glories trail around the studio windows, and honeysuckle hangs over the kitchen door. Cherry tomatoes and spicy nasturtiums now grow in pots on the deck, still easily harvested by small hands.
I sit on the back step, where I have sat so many times before and where so many feet have passed over these nearly 30 years. Sassafras saplings abound in the shade of their parent trees, and my grandchildren delight in munching on their leaves. “Mmm, lemony,” they declare yet again, offering green bites to me. Oaks hang over, and maples gracefully strain up between. An apple tree planted for Max’s fourth birthday now bears a good crop. Money plants still fringe the yard, purple blooms and white, a legacy of our English friend Nick from when he came to be Max’s godfather. The pup has once again become dog, become old, and soon will be gone. But she, like all the life lived here, will continue to echo on, under these back yard trees, and I will carry on watching it all from this back step
of my kitchen door.