After years of neglect and disrepair, our back stairs are finally being fixed. Our kindly landlord – whom we were lucky to know for over a decade – recently passed away at age 100, after a long, rich life. Now his family has taken over his buildings, and is slowly fixing them, we anticipate, in preparation for putting them on the market.
It took less than a day for the contractor to pull down what remained of the leaning, crumbling steps. However, replacing them may take quite awhile, considering the amount of decay in the walls. Each day I watch him dig things up in the garden, as he prepares to pour concrete to support the new stairs. He’s had to break up the old concrete supports, and despite his attempts to be careful, they now lie strewn atop the ruins of our leggy wildflower mix, our chard and spinach plantings.
I reflect on how much B. and I cherish the garden, how it nourishes both the body (potatoes, spinach, chard, lettuce, arugula, strawberries, etc.) and the mind – in restful contemplation of the scenery and in the lusty pleasure with which we work the pungent earth. I almost feel nostalgic about those old steps, careening up and down them at a scary slant, boards softening here and there, a creak or groan giving extra pause. This was the landing where we spent many a night observing and tracking Jupiter, Saturn, the moon and the stars; the decrepit banisters where we watched a mating pair of mourning doves perch and coo at each other.
My mom truly passed on to me her love of nature, enjoying our garden in the house where she raised me after my parents divorced, treasured it like a life source. Daily she rhapsodized over azalea blooms dotting our garden path, or the huge blossoms on the tulip and cherry trees in our front yard, inhaling their intoxicating fragrance. She delighted in raking autumn leaves, shuffling through them as my aunt also did when I visited her in Russia (another in our family who loves nature). Back then I resented having to help my mother gather leaves, and plant new greenery in the spring. But you might say she planted a seed in me that in time grew to overcome that desire to escape to more urban excitement.
She eventually lost that house, when she became too ill to work and could no longer pay bills. By then I’d moved out, and she needed a higher level of care, eventually moving to a mental-health facility. Now, B.’s and my building will most likely be sold, as was our landlord’s old house. Every time I think of this huge change and the idea of moving, I’m reminded of my mother and the losses she suffered. Our own change is nerve-wracking, though I’m sure it’ll be for the better in the end. Hopefully it’ll turn out well, and this period of uncertainty, like everything else in life, will pass.