Monday, July 25, 2011

Chapter One

Before moving to Virginia eight years ago, we lived in upstate New York near Lake Ontario. If you missed the exit to our town, you went to the border, made a u-turn, and came back. Always preferring to live in town instead of on base, we bought a house built in 1895 that featured original stained glass, tin ceilings, handmade tongue-in-groove paneling, and a stone cellar. The house next door was haunted and there was a speakeasy in the basement of one of the homes down the street.  A massive flame maple, a few ugly shrubs and several clumps of peonies completed the landscaping. Hoping to sell the house quickly when we moved, we threw ourselves into restoring the home and creating a small garden.

The closing paperwork on the house included the original deed, handwritten in script on almost transparent parchment. With every new page and owner, the mystery of the house deepened. I wasn't just the latest owner, but another chapter in its story. Down came the neon yellow paneling that hid the handmade woodwork beneath it, the Pepto pink walls painted, moldy linoleum replaced, junk hauled from the backyard. We found tufts of horsehair in the crumbling plaster walls and used the hitching post in the front to help gauge how deep the snow was.

Flowers sprouted where snow had stood in mountains only months before and pigeons roosted on the garage. Rhododendrons, planted far enough away from the roof line to survive icicle sabers, crab apple trees, yarrow, astrantia, lady's mantle, delphinums, campanula, sweet william, and daylillies bought for a $1 a piece replaced the grass. I worked, my husband deployed, the kids went sledding down the porch steps. Our chapter ended and we moved to Virginia.

I've lived in my current house eight years, longer than I've ever lived anywhere. Will someone buy this house some day and proclaim to their friends that they got an incredible deal on a house built in 2003? I'll never know. Instead, I know that I am simply Chapter One. The new owners of my New York house neglected the garden and weeds took over. Military like me, they've already moved and new people have taken their place.

To illustrate my chapter, I've decided to leave notes to whomever lives in this house next. I should have started eight years ago, but I just didn't think about it. Buried in my garden will lay clues about the family that built this house and created the garden. And maybe, just maybe, if the walls are crumbling and the garden smothered with weeds, they will flip back a few pages to Chapter One and reclaim the garden.


The first tin I buried in the garden.


The first note says, "Laura and her best friend Rachel stood under the dogwood tree, posing for pictures before her Sweet 16 party. They are smart, goofy, and beautiful. May 2011"


I thought these little tins would hold up better than glass bottles. I slipped it in a Ziploc bag before I buried it.


Sweet 16!


18 comments:

  1. What a clever idea! We wrote on the walls before the wallpaper went up, but that was more a kids' prank than a message to the future. I like your thoughtful approach much better : )

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  2. What an incredibly beautiful idea! Someday a very special owner and gardener will find one of your carefully planted tins and sit under that tree and read about you and your family--savoring the special memories and the woman who took the time to craft such a lovely memory-holder.

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  3. What a fun thing to do for someone else! I would love to discover something like that while digging in the dirt.

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  4. What a cute idea! I think that would be a nice thing to find. I have left many places over the years. My thoughts are always that it is no longer my home and I have to allow the new owner to make the garden theirs. It will be hard this fall, we are returning to Seaford for a visit. My mom lives next door to our old house, no escaping it.

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  5. That is a wonderful idea! We put so much time, work, and memories into our gardens. And sharing the stories will help the future owners appreciate the gift of their new home!

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  6. It is a great idea! I'd like to have bought a house from you :). We have lived in our current house for 5 years - the longest we have been in one place, like you. We have had 10 moves in 13 years...

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  7. What a great idea. I have often wondered if the lady that bought our house even wondered about what any of the plants are that we planted in the yard. I am terrified to drive by as I am afraid to see its condition.

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  8. I live in an old house and often wonder about the people that came before me. Your project is fun and will be much apprecaited.

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  9. Lovely idea! I think about the people who will someday live here...especially when I am planting sticks of trees and shrubs, knowing that somewhere down the road, someone will enjoy them as they mature.

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  10. You're an insightful woman...what an amazing discovery for the future families of your home. Congratulations to your Sweet 16! She's beautiful!

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  11. Thanks! I bought the tins online from www.specialtybottle.com. They are really inexpensive. I don't have a set number of tins I want to bury. I think I'll use them to mark milestones or things that feel significant.

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  12. I am absolutely infatuated with this idea. You're such a creative person. Living in an old house and finding clues about the past is one of my great joys. But memories are created no matter the age of the house and I like that you've actively decided to leave marks of your houses history. We too have left our mark. The chimney was sealed with concrete and our initials carved into the wet cement before covering the entire thing with drywall. Perhaps one day someone will want to use that chimney again and find our handiwork.

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  13. Aw, what a cool idea to leave that for someone who may buy your house! That would be such a neat thing to find. We're the second owners of our house, but we did get to speak to the former owner before we moved in. He didn't really leave us anything interesting, just upstairs carpeting full of dog pee stains! (We have since torn that out and replaced it with wooden floors).

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  14. My house is almost 100 years old and we never found anything from past owners with all the gutting I did during renovation. It would have been wonderful to find old photos and messages. You will be making someones day special in the future.

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  15. I love it! (And it kinda chokes me up too). I found a message in a bottle once at the beach on the east coast that had come from Montreal. It was such a neat feeling. I can only imagine how the new owners will feel someday finding beautiful messages from the past. Lovely. :)

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  16. Jennifer@threedogsinagarden
    I think I have to add this post to my list of favourites. That each owner represents a chapter in the houses history is a wonderful way to look at things. And I predict that future owners are going to be thrilled to discover those buried treasures! I know I would be. Your daughter is beautiful BTW. You must be so proud!

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  17. Oh my goodness, I love the way your mind works. I am seriously going to do something like this in my own yard...my own little time capsule!

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