Monday, March 8, 2010

My parents are selling their house. I went up there over the weekend to choose some things I'd like to have - mostly books, and a few kitchen implements - as my brother is (allegedly) going to sell the remainder on eBay.

While the fact of losing that home-base will surely hit home after the house is in the charge of some enterprising young family, I am excited for my parents to start a new chapter, even if the timing is not what they would have chosen. The truth is, the house was never exactly to my tastes, even at 3, and in some ways (yes, over 25 years) we never really settled in. My folks are many things, but homemakers is not one. Although the center of many wonderful family gatherings, it was not, in itself, the stuff of family lore.

By contrast, take my grandmother's legendary family home in Silver Spring, which words to this day are still spoken in hushed tones rendered rosy with nostalgia and quite at odds with that suburb's realities. My great-aunt, the family historian, just sent around some of the sorts of recollections to which I refer.
The James E. Benedict property, from the time the house was built in 1893?, was almost half of the block between Highland Drive and Grace Church Road, with the Henry Olds house built to its north, and the Edson B. Olds house on the diagnonally opposite corner of the block.
In addition to crabapples, plums, peaches, chestnuts, and other trees, and gooseberries, currants, black and red raspberries, grapes, strawberries, and other fruits, there were many plants and flowers. There were narcissus and daffodils lining the sidewalk to the front door, hydrangea, mock-orange, fragrant shrub, rose bushes, forsythia, and many other bushes. Grandad had a large vegetable garden.
The lawn, east of the house, was open to the street, from which everyone could view its north border of lilac trees. In front of the lilacs and curving to the east border next to the west side of the circular driveway to the garage, was the flower bed known as "Aunt Bess's," with almost every summer-blooming plant, lasting until the frost time.
Behind the lilac border, and sloping away to The Hollow, was an access road for oil tankers and a path along the south side of the two-story shop in which Charles J. Benedict, Sr.,, had his printing business. Between the access road and the path, was a trianguar-shaped garden tended by Aunt Ruth, fenced in and with a green carpet of grass. It contained a variety of rose bushes, and over the gate was an arbor of red rambler roses. The gate had a lock and the children were allowed in only when supervised by Aunt Ruth. It was like a private, little fairyland. In late winter there might be a crocus or snowdrop pushing through the snow.
When we moved across the intersection of Highland Drive and First Avenue, to the Leighton Place (which we called Old Oaks), we had hickory nuts, walnuts, and Concord grapes, the various berry bushes, and an apple orchard, as well as Dad's vegetable garden.
The north side of the property, on Highland Drive, extended from First to Second Avenues. It was unshaded and Dr. Clifford Waller, across the street, asked if he could plant dahlias along the fence. He was assistant US Surgeon General and often had important visitors who enjoyed sharing the sight of his prize-winning beauties. Dr. Waller reminded us that the flowers were to be admired, not touched, and in all our growing years, we never did touch them. He had faith that we would not and we did not.
Dad had his circular plot of bulb plants, including tulips and hyacinths, and along the driveway his favorite pansies. We never tired of looking at the faces of the pansies and comparing them with each other and they bloomed from early spring until October. There were lillies-of-the-valley just north of the front door. Dad spent his spare time working around the yard and welcomed our company as we trotted alongside him. There is a snapshot of Ruth Mary with him, as the inspiration for his poem, "Followin' Daddy 'Round."
MaMa (Elizabeth Junken Benedict), our grandmother, had many indoor plants in the bay window facing west in their parlor, and each summer moved them to the front porch, where she tended them with care.
Aunt Ruth also loved natural plants and went into the woods to find them for the area from the front porch of their house to the street, west of the sidewalk. There were ferns and Indian pipes, partridge berries, and many other plants, setting off the bird bath in the shade of the tree there.
All our relatives enjoyed Nature's contributions to our surroundings.

1 comment:

charlie said...

Keep your GD mitts off my birthright!