Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Second Yard...

When I was a child, my parents bought a charming old house in a tiny New Jersey town and set about fixing it up. They had grand and beautiful taste. The gardens were exquisite, neat and bountiful, the inside of the house bit by bit restored to the beauty my mother imagined it had once possessed. But doing all this, my parents struggled about money. Their tight budget chafed my mother’s patience and depressed my father who liked everyone to be happy or at least content.

But I thought we were rich and here’s why: we could walk anywhere in town and see wonderful things like huge boulders left by glaciers, gorgeous and mysterious houses with tunnels once rumored to be used in the Underground Railroad, swiftly running brooks with water so clear you could see the smooth brown bed at the bottom and on summer days, discard your shoes and wade until the water swirled around your knees. For these reasons and more, I was sure that we lived in the most exclusive and wonderful place on earth.

As for our personal wealth, well…we had a second yard. Most people had one. In fact so many people had only one yard that they didn’t even call that one yard the first yard. But not us. We had two.

The house I loved so much was set at the front of the property and around it were my mother’s gardens. A long driveway embraced the side of the property and led to the detached garage—a wonder in itself because it came with a concrete patio that ran right up to the edge of the yard and so it had to have a sturdy fence around it. When no one was watching, a mischievous girl could sneak behind the garage and balance on the narrow ledge between the fence and nowhere.

The edge of the yard was after all, not the end. Stone steps led down to a sloping meadow where peach and plum trees grew. The rest of the property, the first yard that held the house and garage, were held up by a stone wall, so if you went down the stone steps and reached to your right or to your left, your hand would touch a ten foot wall made of smooth, rounded stones.

The second yard was a place of imagination and freedom. Beyond the clean, cultivated dictates of the weeded gardens, the second yard was where games were invented and we played all day. It was ours. We could climb the fruit trees, roll down the hill, picnic, hide, talk.

We loved to try to climb up the stone wall and peek over at the house. It was not so easy to get foot and hand holds in between the rocks, and sometimes, we’d find snake skins left there. Thrilling

Built into the stone wall was the one place in the second yard that was forbidden to us. The carriage house. Yes, the house was old enough that a place to keep horse drawn carriages (and I suppose the horses?) had been built into the bank of earth. No one knew if it was safe or not. Someone said the roof beams were ready to collapse. There had been a fire in there once and rumors of things hiding there.

So despite the cautions and rules, we went in to see how bad it was.

It wasn’t bad! It was wonderful! A big, hidden empty space with a smooth floor and planked walls and big wooden beams holding up the ceiling It smelled of charred wood and earth and I thought it was grand. Something could be made of it, I was absolutely certain, it could be filled up, and used and bright with color and purpose!

Just knowing that the carriage house was there, waiting to be restored and used seemed to me like money in the bank to me. Not only did we have a yard where we could romp and play all day, but we had an extra room, an empty, historically valuable room just waiting, a room for anything our imaginations could concoct, a room ready for any project life could bring our way. If that wasn’t being rich, what was?


  1. Priceless. We were so lucky to grow up there. .