Sunday, 14 June 2015

Garden 2: the Neighbours'

Mock orange, front door, welcome mat

"Life is demarcated by its transitory nature."

My neighbour said this to me one year ago, departing my house by the back door for the very last time. Ain't that the truth.

From a home to a health hazard, just like that
I know when they bought the house they intended to stay. The first time we met, on a playdate at the park, brokered by him (with whom in the alley, a day or two before, I had had a brief and cordial discussion about composting), she told me she wanted to be the kind of neighbour you could call up to borrow a cup of sugar. I liked her instantly. Not just sugar, either, but food colouring, ice, gin, wheelbarrow...
One last look at our house from their deck. Our shingles don't match...
We became friends and neighbours, not just friendly neighbours. Our youngest occasionally played ninjas together. Our oldest were usually civil. Good enough. They included us when they entertained. I watered their garden and fed their cat when they were away. We had each other's house keys, alarm codes, and - most coveted - sitter's contact information.
Morning glory
We were careful not to overstep each other's boundaries, but the gate to the back garden was always unlocked (she kept kale plants there, mostly for me) and the welcome mat at their sliding kitchen doors was always out. They were the kind of neighbours you could visit in your pyjamas. And he mixed a mean, well-edited selection of cocktails.
Carpet underlay should be felt and not seen
I'm not always great with life's transitory nature. Good or bad, I seem to need more than the standard amount of time to process change. So, demolition underway, I find myself drawn back to my ex-neighbours' ex-house, for one last look and a souvenir snapshot. I think they might appreciate an update and a picture of the mess.
Soon the diggers roll in
They are an important part of the history of that little purple house (blue, actually, but it was their house; they can call it what they like). They are its last family. That their leaving would likely mean the end for the house, too, must have made the decision doubly hard. Though they hoped to attract a family that would love it the way they did, the house is old, small, and quirky. Development was inevitable.
Unlike me, she had no issue with buttercup
Standing in the overgrown riot of raspberry, roses, weeds and rubble, my attention begins to focus. That is not just broken wainscoting; it is the orange-red trim from their kitchen. That's not just a mess of gutted cabinets, but the lazy Susan that once held their casserole dishes. There's the cupboard with tea, crackers and cat treats. I spent many hours in that kitchen, watching her decorate her secret-family-recipe Shortbread Nut Sticks with melted chocolate and a toothpick. I know it well. I'm not looking at any old half-demolished house; this is their half-demolished house.

She gave me this euphorbia 3 years ago.
I think his old bike will feel at home here.
I see him, flipper in hand, hovering near the BBQ on the back deck, Canadian flag hanging above him. I see her annual Christmas party spread: apple cider on the stove, a crockpot of meatballs on the table, platters of bacon-wrapped dates, chicken wings, cheese and home baking on the metal coffee table. I see the children in their Hallowe'en costumes, made of cardboard, imagination and love.

I glance past the piles of broken drywall, fibre-board and counter top, and notice the tangled, jungly remains of what used to be their vegetable garden. The morning glory, as she knew it would, has won. In three days the house, and the garden, will be gone. Soon enough another house - new, comfortable, efficient - will exist in its place. Wonder if the new neighbours will be the kind you can call up to borrow a cup of sugar.

Garden 14:  Harvest
Garden 13: Abandoned Stuff, Things of Beauty
Garden 12: Death and Potential
Garden 11: Japanese Maple Tree and Sedum (?)
Garden 10: Foxglove and Weed Digger
Garden 9: Veggies and Sweet Pea 
Garden 8: Gnomes and Slugs
Garden 7: The Lady Next Door
Garden 6: Euphorbia and Rusted, Metal Things
Garden 5: Cement Bench and Wallflower
Garden 4: Maryjane
Garden 3: Family Portrait
Garden 1: Lilac Bush and Abandoned Cans


  1. Wonderful words, wonderful memories, wonderful friends

  2. A grateful note from the He of the above story… on the subject of transitioning from objects to memories and back again. Preparing to leave that house brought the need for that uncomfortable critical eye to be passed over everything – will we need this? Why have we hung on to this? Years ago, it was achingly difficult to part with anything, feeling like a little memory of the original owners, my family- was leaving with each item. It was in fact Leah, our lovely neighbour and champion of the found object, who helped me through this: lovingly repurposing things carefully stored, dutifully transported but invariably long forgotten. It made me feel good that these things- from buttons and ribbon to clothing and decorations – found a new life. I remember her pride in gardening away wearing one of my Grandmother’s old outfits, and the wonderful combination of nostalgia and admiration I felt when she made a blouse out of leftover fabric my Grandmother had once used for curtains. It was *okay* to let go of things.

    So I set about our pre-move divesting that much more confidently than I would have in previous years- piles of books and clothes donated, surplus tools and hardware given to the folks helping us get the house ready. My family’s collection of vinyl, which I once guarded so importantly, ended up in large part at the used record store at the end of the block. These like so many things had become “stuff”- the memory having been slowly transferred away from the object. There was one record in the stack that came to hand, and the symmetry of what it represented made me smile.

    There was really no question about what to do with it, and I felt excited about having gotten to know her well enough to know that she would like it. When I presented it to her, I remember how her eyes lit up. At the core of it, it’s just a thing. It sat packed away in the dark for decades, waiting. I gave it to her, and now it’s a memory that I wouldn’t trade for anything.

    There’s a tiny image of our little purple house hanging in our new kitchen, a gift from Leah. It’s a handmade little shrinky-dink, irreplaceable, that sums up much of what I know about her. When I look at the little hand drawn house, I don’t miss the structure – I think about a great friend who crafted memories out of simple things.

  3. What a lovely, loving, tribute to memories made and the types of neighbours we all wish to have. May your new neighbours (each) be half as grateful to find in you someone who will happily lend a cup of sugar.

  4. That record is one of my most prized possessions, you know. It hangs in the kitchen, along with the Beatles cake topper from my 8th birthday.

    (I wore your grandma's awesome gardening outfit to take the pictures - see 3rd shot :))