Life out back

As I watered the pots and flowerbeds the other day, I thought about how much our backyard has changed  in the seven years that we’ve lived in our house.

When we first moved in, there was an unspeakably vile red lean-to structure that stretched from one end of the house all the way to the side fence.  It meant that when you entered the backyard you could see nothing of the trees and lawn just behind; the only thing greeting you was a red wooden wall (featuring, inexplicably, a Dutch door).    Shortly after we moved in,  Scott got to work with a crowbar, and spent many happy weekends demolishing it (he rarely gets to destroy things; it was very cathartic, he reported).  Its demise meant that our small NoCal backyard instantly shot up on the beauty-o-meter. The yard suddenly looked — and felt — a whole lot more spacious.

The yard has also gotten much more floral.  The home’s previous owner  was more into shrubs than flowers, and I’ve rectified that by having Scott hack away at some tough old  junipers and oleander (more happy destruction!) in order to clear the way for flowerbeds.    Since moving in, we’ve planted roses, and bulbs and annuals, a hydrangea or two (alas, the native soil seems not to like hydrangeas), and lots and lots of blooming pots.   So now it is far more colorful, especially on these warm autumn afternoons when the light is rich and buttery yellow, and the red geraniums and purple sage pop into your line of vision like the colors of stained glass.

It sounds odd to say this, but the yard has also gotten a lot more Catholic over the years.   There’s a small St. Francis shrine on the fence that I see outside the kitchen window, and a white stone Mary stands in gracious state where the corner of the house meets the garage, with low flowering pots at her feet.   I don’t really stop and pray at these shrines, but their presence makes me happy nonetheless, because they are a visual reminder of the faith that my parents chose for me when I was a kid, and that I choose again for myself, over and over, every day of my life.

And the yard also tells part of the story of our family.  When I miscarried before Matthew was born, we planted a white camellia along the side fence, to honor that little life that we never got to know.  Its blooms are ruffled and small, much more delicate than those of the tough pink camellia ten feet away.  It’s  a reminder, a quiet, unassuming reminder, of one of the two children that I never got to meet and hold, and of the fragile faith that carried me along through some dark days.  I am very glad that it’s there.

And the yard bears pretty obvious testimony to the fact that, God be praised, two little boys did eventually enter our lives.  There’s the cracked wading pool, the faded rubber ball off in the corner, the Little Tykes basketball hoop on the patio.  There is the flowerbed that I’ve decided to keep empty, in case they one day want to have a dirt spot to play with their plastic construction vehicles.

And there are lots of memories echoing off of the cracked asphalt: the sound of basketballs and laughter, of frisbees scuttling along the ground, of my voice telling a little helper how to pat soil around tiny marigolds, of the sudden splash of small boys jumping into a shallow wading pool on a warm evening, their hair plastered to their foreheads, their bare tummies adorned with wet leaves and bits of dirt and grass.

On the face of it, it’s just a modest suburban backyard.  But to me, it’s holy ground.

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