Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Our Big Backyard

I wasn't quite sure what my parents saw in the little ranch house. Surely the tri level with the sparkly paint and white carpets in the bedrooms and the freshly-sodded lawn would have been so much better. That's what my 10-year-old self was thinking and trying to convince my parents of that 1967 house-hunting summer. I so wanted sparkly walls in my bedroom.

My parents had another plan. The little ranch had a bigger yard. I mean a huge yard. At least, it was huge through the eyes of this skinny, prepubescent, city-dwelling girl who'd grown up surrounded by two- and three-flats with postage-stamp yards and tiny pesticide-laced kitchen gardens.

This was the moment my parents had been waiting for. This was the fulfillment of their American dream - a home of their own with a back yard where they could grow an organic garden and where their five kids could climb trees, eat mulberries and green apples, play softball with the neighborhood kids, throw sticks for the puppy they'd soon bring home, and help take care of the garden.

They weren't planning any old small-scale backyard raised-bed spot for tomatoes and a few salad greens and peas. No sir, we are talking more like, um, mini farm. without the livestock. (Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, a pet rat, gerbils, goldfish, and even an occasional tarantula don't count as livestock.)

So the yard needed to be big. No new house on a treeless soulless lot in a white bread tri level subdivision with a chain link fence and a yard the size of a postage stamp would do for this family, no sirree! If that's what they were after, they may as well have just bought a house in the city.

They found a place with the perfect yard - lots of trees for shade on the kid side so their fair-haired freckle-faced brood wouldn't get sunburned playing outside in the days before sunscreen. Grandpa, with his horticultural degree and passion for trees had a little orchard on his little farm in the Ozarks. He was proud of his daughter and son-in-law when he came to visit, seeing all the trees my mom had described in her frequent letters back home. They talked pruning, fertilizing, mulching, and how trees were good for the environment, and I could tell my parents were proud of those trees too.

Their pride was infectious, and we kids became proud and awed after moving into our house when one day we decided to count the trees. Forty-six trees in the backyard, I kid you not. Being a city kid, I had never known anyone besides my grandparents who owned that many trees. Some of them were tall and slender and lined the fence and parkway, and others with lush canopies became bases for hundreds of summer softball games where girls and boys played together and no one got harassed by overzealous parents or coaches.

The garden side of the yard, well, that's a whole other post. The garden had a life and a soul of its own. Next time I'll tell you about that.


  1. How wonderful that you have such good memories of that big back yard. I always had a big back yard, too, though we moved a lot within the same community, mostly into "company-owned" staff houses. They all had great yards, and the ocean was at my back doorstep. :)

  2. As a fellow owner of small, decidedly modest ranch house on a larger lot, I salute your parents! ;-) My yard was lawn up to the house on all four sides when I bought it almost 6 years ago--now I have beds all around the house, plus three more besides. Filling it up as been a challenge, but I do well in swaps, trades, seeds, and occasionally actually opening my wallet! ;-) I also spent a lot of time outdoors as a child, but I (more's the pity) had no interest in gardening until my mid 20s.
    ~ Monica

  3. We who had tree-filled yards to play in as children were so lucky. DH grew up on a suburban lot in a new subdivision. He still loves a lawn.

  4. That does sound like a very big yard, what a great memory. The way parents act and talk can translate to their children and affect them deeply. I wish more people were mindful of that.

  5. How great to have a love for growing things span the generations in your family. I was an Air Force brat and grew up on base, so gardening (or even having a family home) wasn't part of my upbringing. I came to gardening quite late in my life and I don't really know how the gardening bug bit.

  6. Nancy, I'd LOVE to have the ocean nearby like that. When DH and I travel, we gravitate to ocean-front spots. There's nothing like the sound of a large body of water - it's so soothing. Sunrise and sunset over the ocean are awesome!

    Monica, I'd rather have a small house with a big yard than the other way around. Where I live now we have a largish house and a largish yard. I still like small houses - they're cozy. Our yard is my favorite thing about this house.

    MMD, I have a lawn man too! He spends more money and time on the lawn than I do on the garden.

    Cinj, I was never too fond of the house, but fell in love with that yard. I have so many happy memories of playing in that yard and garden.

    MSS, I'm glad I came from a long line of gardeners and farmers. It's definitely in my blood.

  7. Hi Linda, I always love your stories and especially ones about your large family. Forty six tree is an incredible number. We also played pick up games of baseball, every day with trees as bases, a cooling spot of shade while waiting for the next batter to move us on, girls and boys, good and not so good athletes, no parents in sight. What a wonderful place you had to grow up, thanks for sharing it with us.

    Frances at Faire Garden

  8. Frances, I'm glad you enjoy the stories. I enjoy recalling and writing them.

  9. It sounds delightful! I love it when someone has a golden childhood. I too grew up with garden-raised veggies and fruit. Hard to imagine, now, that we didn't know what canned food was that I remember!

  10. What an interesting post! I have a litle "wood" like that too.

    Thank you for your nice comment :)
    Happy weekend :)

  11. Brenda, my mom used to freeze the excess from the garden, and even 'can' (in mason jars) lots of tomatoes. She made homemade applesauce from our trees, and even made homemade jams and jellies from the concord grapes given to us by an elderly friend. We knew what 'canned' was, but it came from colorful mason jars and a big old canner than looked like a pressure-cooker. I still love mason jars - they're very nostalgic. And every so often I get a hankering for homemade apple butter or concord grape jam. When my kids were younger, they enjoyed helping me made homemade goodies like those. Smuckers has nothing on my homemade fruit preserves!

    Marie, it is so beautiful where you live. Your children are lucky they got to grow up someplace like that, and you're lucky to still be living there and enjoying life in the country with such lovely surroundings.


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