Home Is Where Love Resides

Recently I transferred the rocks from the grotto under one of our wisteria trellises to a raised planter that once housed a large, yellow mum. The idea was to move the rocks out of the line of fire when fall leaves drop and to a spot that would be easier on my knees during spring cleaning.

It turned out to be far more than that. As so often happens in my garden, the task took on special meaning for me – this time unexpectedly deep meaning.

The grotto rocks are not random stones. Some are river rocks from property we once owned on the slopes of Oregon’s Mt. Hood. Some are from our second honeymoon to Arizona. A few are souvenirs of a genealogy excursion to Montana. Some are cut stones handed down from my husband’s grandparents who were rockhounds. I could go on, but you get the idea. The stones mean something to us.

In their new location, I carefully arranged each rock to create a world where tiny gnomes could live in fairy houses and frolic in a petrified forest. A wrought iron hose horse we’ve never mounted became a bridge. An old piece of driftwood my mother brought from the Oregon Coast became the welcoming arch. A string of tiny lights twinkles across it at twilight.

I found joy in this warm-weather project for the same reason setting up my Christmas village makes me happy in winter. The original four buildings that anchor the Christmas village, the evergreen trees, and a set of porcelain carol singers belonged to my father-in-law who passed away in 1992. In the grotto outdoors and in the Christmas town, the building blocks hold memories of places and people I’ve loved.

It’s more than that, though. Creating these little towns allows me to build worlds where I have final say over what happens. In real life, we don’t have that control.

Serendipitously, at the same time I was building the fairy garden, the house my grandmother lived in from 1944 to 1979 came on the market in the Los Angeles harbor town of San Pedro. Even though it’s a tiny cottage far away from my children and grandchildren, if I could afford the asking price, I would be talking to the realtor.

It’s home to me.

I never actually lived with my grandmother, but I spent so much time there that I went to the school nearest her house instead of the one nearest mine. In the back room, I used a set of worn-out children’s blocks to build houses, furnished them with plastic beds and tables, and arranged little Disney figurines here and there. In the narrow living room, I watched cartoons and roller derby. In the kitchen, I watched my grandmother scoop bacon grease into a sizzling hot skillet, ate the eggs she fried, and spread strawberry jam too thick on my toast. The memories are so thick I could eat them, too.

When my grandmother died, I was 24 and had no control over what happened to the house. I was the second youngest of 25 first cousins, but more importantly, all 10 sets of our parents were alive and well and in charge of the situation. As might be expected in such a large family, the house was sold. I not only lost my grandmother. I felt like I lost my connection to home. It’s haunted me for decades and spurred an endless quest for a replacement.

Creating the grotto and fairy garden, thinking of the Christmas village, remembering the houses I made of old blocks, and learning that my grandmother’s house was on the market brought me to a conclusion – one that I hope will finally rid me of recurring nightmares about being lost in a city and not being able to find my way home.

Home is not a place you live. People die. Deeds change. Sometimes walls crumble and gardens go to seed. Families scatter. The only thing that endures, the only thing that doesn’t slip through your fingers, is the memory of love.

Lately I’ve been worried about what will happen to our house when my husband and I are gone. We’ve lived here longer than I’ve lived anywhere in my life, and it’s the closest replacement to my grandmother’s home that I’m ever going to get. I imagine our children will decide to sell. The new owners will renovate and perhaps change the landscaping if they think our garden is too much work. My children and grandchildren will not have the joy of returning home, just as I could not return to my grandmother’s home. I wish with all my heart I could spare them that loss.

Today I’m beginning to realize that it doesn’t really matter. As long as our family creates loving memories here, our legacy will endure and our children and grandchildren will always be able to return to this place in their thoughts.

Certainly, they may take some rocks from the grotto, transplant a rosebush into their own yards, and put some of our knick-knacks on display in their living rooms. But those things won’t matter if they don’t also associate the keepsakes with love.

Because here’s what I think could be the answer to my 40-year itch.

Home is not a place you live. Home is where love resides … even if its resting place is only in memory.



What Matters Most

The long, dry summer of 2018 in the high desert of Northern Nevada was a record breaker. For 56 consecutive days the temperature hit at least 90, and on 20 of those days the mercury crept up to 100 or more. If that wasn’t enough to make you hide indoors, thick smoke from historic wildfires certainly did.

In the garden, my roses absorbed plenty of water through the drip system. But I could do nothing to shade them from the sweltering sun or help them respire (the plant equivalent to breathing). They had to figure out a way to survive on their own. It wasn’t until I noticed a marked drop in new buds that I understood their game plan.

They prioritized.

I looked it up. When conditions are less than favorable, roses put their energy into keeping their foliage healthy and hydrated. Producing blooms takes a back seat.

How smart is that? It’s exactly what humans do when times are tough.

In my (almost) 65 years, I’ve weathered periodic financial crises with my parents and my husband. It’s a no-brainer that you first focus your resources on the necessities – food, shelter, transportation. If there’s anything left over, maybe you keep a few luxuries – internet, television, dinners out.

Rose - Blog 8You just have to figure out what matters most.

That’s actually how I retired 15 months ahead of schedule. When I realized that a climate change at work had extinguished my passion, I started preparing for departure. First I paid off my car and consumer accounts. Then I began socking money away to create a cushion. Finally, I plugged my projected date into the retirement system’s website.

I cringed. The hit to my pension was roughly 50% of my discretionary budget.

It took me less than a minute to remember how fortunate I am to have a pension at all, shrug my shoulders, and request transition documents. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

When my husband and I were younger, we used to joke about how nice it would be to stay home and have somebody deposit money in our checking account every so often. In retirement, I’m living that fantasy.

Sure, I can’t buy every pretty thing I see (I have enough stuff anyway), and I can no longer treat the family to a dinner out whenever the mood strikes (they’re working and have decent incomes anyway). It’s a fair exchange for peace of mind.

Sometimes in my head I hear that old MasterCard commercial. You know the one.

The freedom to get up each morning and do whatever I want? Priceless.

Is it a nice day? Hmmm, I think I’ll do some gardening. Is it windy or cold out? Maybe I’ll do some writing. Do my grandsons want me to hang out with them at the lake? Heck yeah!

My roses figured out how to survive on less this past summer. Because I also figured out what matters most, I’m having the time of life.

Putting Down Roots

Roots run deep. And there’s nothing like gardening to reinforce that age-old concept.

Take the task I was faced with this summer – removing a rather unremarkable bush that had been in decline for a few years.

It was hard labor. The bush was so entrenched that the drip line was hopelessly snared in a network of tangled branches. Even after I managed to wrangle the bush out of the ground, I literally spent hours extracting stray roots.

“Why doesn’t this dang thing want to let go?” I fumed as I swiped at the sweat running into my eyes. “Well, that’s a silly question. It’s the same reason you want to stay here until you die. It’s where you’ve put down roots.”

To be clear, my roots on this property are only 10 years deep. Plenty of people have connections to their homes that span decades longer. I envy them. One of my best friends lives in the house where she grew up. We met as teenagers about two months after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I’ll let you do the math.

In contrast, I’ve lived in at least 25 houses and apartments in 12 towns in three states. The longest my parents stayed in one spot was five years. My current house in the high desert of Northern Nevada represents my personal best. I know because I recently passed that milestone, and it was a big deal for me. Prior to that, the record-holder was a little, blue house in Oregon where my children came of age.

The reasons my parents moved around, and the reasons I have moved here and there as an adult, are complicated and not particularly relevant to this story. What is relevant is that all the packing and unpacking over the years left a mark on me. I’m tired of moving and have become almost militant about never doing it again. I’ve put down roots, just like the trees and bushes in my garden, and somebody is going to have to work up a sweat to yank me out of here.

Why is that? Why do I say that we’d either have to go completely broke or win unimaginable millions in a lottery to pry me loose? What’s so special about this house?

Nothing really. Nothing except memories – of my mother who passed away in what is now my writing room, dogs that have crossed the bridge, wide-eyed grandchildren on Christmas morning, family dinners on Saturday nights, the pleasure of creating an extraordinary garden on a barren plot of sand.

Perhaps most compelling is this. Even though I don’t live in the house where I grew up and my children can’t visit theirs, I want my grandsons to have the strongest memories they can possibly have of a place where family dwelled. Where laughter was easy and love was shared. Where mistakes were sometimes made but forgiveness flowed. Where roses bloomed and roots ran deep. What could be a better legacy than that?

The Garden 2011
Spring 2011
The Garden 2018
Spring 2018