During one of my many trips through the backyard to the dumpster, I stopped just to look around. It’s been our backyard for 16 years, but we don’t use it as often as we should.
There are fir trees – some nearly 20 feet tall, that came to our house in the back of Helaine’s Mazda 929. In fact there’s a veritable nursery still growing that came home in the backseat of that underrated sedan.
There are so many little things in the yard that have been there since day one, it’s easy to pass them by. For instance, there’s the rock. It was supposed to be Steffie’s rock.
Steffie was three when we moved in. The house was new, though it had sat vacant over a year, victim of a major housing slump.
No sooner had the ink dried on our purchase, that the developer started to excavate for a house next door. He called in John W. and his backhoe to do the job.
John was like a character out of central casting. When you first met him, you wondered what you had done to tick him off? When you got to know him, you realized he was a gentle guy with a heart of gold¹.
If ever there was a ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ story, it was John.
It was late afternoon and John was done with his work next door. When I caught sight of him, he was in my backyard with the backhoe’s bucket pushing a rock.
Maybe rock is a little mild. This chunk of stone is four feet tall and a few feet wider. I have no idea what it weighs, except to say, I can’t budge it.
As John pushed, sparks were flying from beneath the rock where it scraped along the ground.
“Stop,” I yelled.
John looked puzzled. He was doing me a favor by moving this useless piece of stone out of the way.
I had never owned a house. Heck, until just then I had never even lived in a house! I wanted this rock for my daughter.
Somehow, in that twisted, romanticized way parents think about their young children… those dreams when the future becomes seemingly predictable… I saw that big old rock as a plaything for Steffie. It was a fort or a castle or a stage – something meaningful in a kid’s life.
John pushed the rock back in place. I’m not sure whether he understood or just wrote me off as crazy.
Steffie never did play with the rock. It’s OK. I’m not sure she missed anything.
Still, I’m glad John put the rock back where it belonged. The fact that it was almost taken away makes it all the more meaningful today.
Like so many other things I’ve been reminded of in these past few days of cleaning, the rock brought back good memories. I can close my eyes and see the sparks. I can close my eyes and see Steffie as a three year old.
If she ever wants it, the rock is still hers.
¹ – At some point, and for no apparent reason, John came over with what looked to me, a city boy, as fat twigs. He told me to plant them. They were “Rose of Sharon” and they would be beautiful some day.
I did and they are. Their beautiful flowers are in bloom most of the summer.
John probably doesn’t remember the bushes he brought by, but I do.