My childhood home, Arvingdale, is finally going up for sale, Gentle Reader. As of the end of this month, all the family treasures will be boxed or at Maman’s for the forseeable; it’s so empty, so bare that it doesn’t feel like home. I’m feeling nostalgic, naturally, and I’m sad to see it go – but the house is in bad shape, the grounds are overgrown – it’s time to say goodbye.
My father carved the land as he saw fit, guided only by my mother’s whims – “I want that bunch of trees saved – this’ll be the lawn – that’d be a great spot for a garden over there!” – and in those early days, although there wasn’t much there but hardpan grey clay, they could see the future.
For two years we lived in a one-room shack, and used my mother’s collection of antiques to get by. We cooked on an actual woodburning stove. Our bedrooms were two campers set at the sides of the house, and our shower was outside, in the kitchen. The shampoo would freeze in the winter, and if it rained, the cold water falling from the sky would mix with the hot water from the shower itself – but oh, seeing the stars while you were doing your best thinking was a strange and wondrous thing.
I was five when the house arrived. Though it was a mobile home, hardly anyone knew or could tell. We put so much effort into customizing it, making it our own.
Over the years, the grounds abounded with all sorts of marvels. Two courtyards, two greenhouses, two ponds – the gardens – the fountains and bridges! – The artificial river, the cobblestone paths – we’d gather the stones each weekend from back roads and ditches (I’d tuck them in the long hem of my shirt to carry them to the car).
And all of it – the gardens and grounds – the nursery where we nurtured the heirloom water lilies – the waterwheel my dad built and balanced by hand – all of it was built on a budget of exactly nothing. All of it was built from broken things; stuff that nobody wanted, transmuted into something new. We scraped and we scavenged and we brought forth beauty from that hard, unforgiving clay.
My parents were justifiably proud of the grounds; whatever my mother imagined, my father built for her. She used her gardens as a showpiece of her skills, for her business. They’d make custom container gardens and yard art. Eventually, using the photos of the gardens at Arvingdale, she won the contract for the city’s hanging baskets. She was so proud.