By Debbie Tanthorey Allen
I mow the lawn. It’s a pleasant nearly-summer evening, I have an hour or two of free time; let’s do this thing. The machine drones on as I go round and round and round; looping broad circles in a sea of green. The noise drowns out everything and I like it. Soothing. I hit a dip in the yard. Here it happens, a recollection is jarred loose. Dip? This is where the sandbox used to be. I’ll bet if I dug down deep enough in this spot, I’d soon unearth a sea shell or a green plastic army man, or a dirt-encrusted Hot Wheels car. That sandbox was the lower level of the kids’ treehouse, the one with the yellow slide, wooden ladder, and striped canopy that was replaced more than once. It came via trailer, from the old house to the new, in 1996.
Gone, too, is the towering 80-foot catalpa tree under which it stood. What a storm! The Derecho of 2012 plucked that tree out of the ground, roots and all, laid that behemoth down like it was nothing. It landed squarely on the girl’s tire swing, the one the boys shimmied up the tree and hung the day of her 16th birthday party. Tree cut away, the swing was rescued, still waits to be rehung on a sturdy limb, to be used by grandchildren. You know, here, the ground is so even, you would never know any existed: treehouse, tree, or tire swing.
Mower and I blithely bump along. We zigzag around the stumps of long-gone trees where the beagle pup had an unfortunate meeting with a poisonous snake. Poor Chase. I told that man when we got married that I preferred we not have pets, no way, no how. I had my reasons. My grandiose plan was to avoid getting attached, then having to grieve when their much-shorter-than-ours life span ends. Over the years though, I was outvoted, time and time again, by husband and doe-eyed children pleading, “Please, Mom!” My eyes instinctively lift in the direction of our pet cemetery, up there in the corner of the property, stone angel standing sentinel, chewed-up ball lying still on the ground.
I steer through the straight stretch, monotonously back and forth, manicuring clover, but mostly, technically, weeds. City folks would scoff at what we refer to as lawn. Doubt if much of it is actual grass. Mowed to height, though, looks just fine; this is the country, after all. Drive over the patch that was once our kids’ own personal playground. That ambitious summer ages ago, I marked off a generous area, then covered the ground with mulch before the swing set was set up. Here I chuckle, recalling he never got around to putting on the swings. Never. Ever. Time wore on regardless, swing-less set eventually replaced by a trampoline that was thoroughly, lovingly, worn out. Now it’s gone, too; instead I see a blank expanse of grass.
Run over a spot where one of the kiddie pools used to sit. Grin as a recollection of squealing little girls attending Leah’s birthday parties drifts into my mind’s view. Birthdays were a big deal at our house, dozens of bright balloons and colorful steamers hung from shade tree branches, swaying in a warm July breeze. Picnic table bedecked with cake, food, and party decorations in that year’s theme: dolphins or puppies, luau or groovy girls. The same giggling girls who raced across the lawn, sang to karaoke, are now grown, finishing college, maybe even married.
Over there is where the picnic table sat; a neighbor boy made that for us as a thank-you gift for something or other. You can find it now at our son’s home, where it gets more use. And over there is where we pitched the three-room tent in the summer sometimes. Memories like ghosts, conjured purely by the aroma of freshly cut grass.
Twenty years have slipped by since we first called this place home. Absent now are five shade trees that flanked the house, a grapevine, oldest clothesline, several pets, two daughters, one son. Out loud, I tell myself, “Such is life—what was, is no more.” But no one could hear me over the gravelly whir of the mower blades, as the ghosts continue to flash past me.
I smile. Yes, the landscape has changed, but not just that; it evolves. This yard continues to endure, to thrive; home to raucous, summertime water battles, darting grandkids, and fireflies.
Debbie Tanthorey Allen is child of the Sixties, attempting to grow old gracefully and failing.