As a child I lived in a row house on the end of the block with a yard that ran the length of our house. There were rose bushes at one end and tulips along the fence. It was my grandmother’s pride and joy, though my grandfather kept it going. I helped him. It was my job to hold his beer as he mowed the grass or weeded around the flowers. Summer was the best season. We would sit in the yard after dinner, shaded by the tree, reading, talking, or just listening to the Orioles game on the radio.
I miss that house, but mostly I miss being in the garden. The house was built in the 1860’s and our family had been its only owners. Every occasion, big or small, was marked by a photo next to the gate. I believe all families have a special place where they gather to take their photographs. I have hundreds of photos of my own children standing on our front steps. I wish I had taken more of them in the garden at my father’s house.
After my grandfather passed away Dad became the caretaker of the garden. He put in a fish pond and planted bamboo that overtook the flowers. My grandmother was suffering from dementia and only seemed to notice that Dad had taken our statue of the Blessed Mother from the garden. He’d wrapped it in a Hefty bag and stored the statue in the basement.
The statue didn’t survive the fire, not much did. Dad was at a restaurant when the blaze started. My grandmother had died a few years before and he was now living in the house alone. I was in my own home fixing dinner with the television on when I saw the Action News helicopter hovering above a burning building that looked oddly familiar. By the time I reached the house the firemen had been evacuated and were standing across the street with Dad smoking cigarettes. The fence melted, the tree was charred and only the brick walls and marble steps remained.
I thought of snapping a photo the next day when I went back to see the damage, but I knew I wouldn’t need a reminder, it was forever burned on my brain. As hard as I tried I couldn’t salvage the house, but I was able to rescue the rose bushes that now grow in my own yard.
Readers, where is your special place to take family photos?