When we moved to Jackson, Michigan in 1987, we bought a ranch on the outskirts of town. A nice neighborhood which was a big loose oblong circle consisting of about 50 homes. Most of the homes were built in the 50’s for mid-level executives working for Consumer’s Power Company. The landscaping was overgrown and hiding the house. This could hardly be called the green, green grass of home. And it was summertime. Something John was compelled to repair. Right away. He was mortified how bad the yard looked. Not an easy fix. But fix it he did.
|Mag VB admiring lousy grass, over grown shrubs|
This was a neighborhood in transition. Many of the homeowners were retired, but were about to downsize, or move closer to their families. The homes being sold were too big for retirees, so most were snatched up by younger families like us. Our house was owned by the little old lady next door named Stella. She was a widow, in her upper ’80’s and the original owner of her own house. She bought our house for her step-daughter who was fighting serious cancer, and had just lost her long battle. Stella was a charming retired school teacher. She and her husband had owned and operated a motel/resort for decades in upper Michigan. At the end of the school year when Stella was done shaping young minds for the summer, she and Lester would open up the motel. It was mostly Stella’s responsibility though, since Lester worked all week in Jackson, then would drive up on weekends to help.
These homes all had spacious lots. Each one was about an acre. And since we were now in forest covered Michigan, most of the yards were filled with trees. We had 9 majestic oaks that stood on the lot line in our front yard. Gorgeous. Then add at least 30 more trees. We were lucky to see 2 feet out of any window, or catch a fleeting ray of sunshine now and then. Right in front of the oaks was a ditch along McCain Road. In late fall you could no longer see the ditch for the leaves. It was level with the road, sometimes higher. We raked them up the first year or 2. Took us about a month. Then John bought a Cub Cadet and sucked them up. Took him about a month (but at least it wasn’t me raking anymore). One of our neighbors had a friend who had a multiple acre garden just down the road. John brought them 100 trash bags of leaves each fall that they used for garden mulch.
|3 oaks and a ditch full of leaves|
Early that first spring, Stella waltzed over to John. He was working feverishly in the yard. Stella asked John to please start treating the weeds. She didn’t want the dandelion seeds flying on her yard. What a hoot! She had owned the property for a decade, but was now concerned that our yard work be done in a timely manner. As in the first 2 months of moving in. John is a lawn nut. He’s always wanted and needed to have the nicest, greenest, weed-free lawn within blocks. Make that miles. And with no help. He was insulted when companies like True Green would stop and offer services. When we bought the house in February, it was covered with a couple feet of snow. After it melted, John was devastated by the condition of the yard. Not a lot of healthy grass. But this could not be fixed in a quick spray of weed killer. It took him 3 years to whip that baby into shape. Weeds weren’t the only problem either. Tough to grow grass in constant shade. Ain’t no sunshine where there’s trees. And our yard was like an umbrella. Hiding the sun with the trees. Hard for this Iowa sun worshipper. Yup, it’s usually all about me.
The house and yard needed updating. You could see this was the original landscaping. If the house was built in ’53, the bushes were now 35 years old. It showed. The shrubs were overgrown, and there were way too many trees. Diane, one of our neighbors said her hubby Fred would be happy to come over and help trim our stuff. He drove over with a BACKHOE. Two hours later, every shrub and bush around the house had been ripped out. In their place were huge holes with rusty colored clay-chunks of soil. That too was different than the rich, black dirt from Iowa we were used to seeing and working with. Our yard looked as though a tornado had hit. Loud gasps could be heard as folks drove by. But to me it looked better already. Fred and John loaded up 2 flatbeds with the yanked out shrubs, then started on the trees. Ended up cutting down about a dozen of our 40 plus trees. We had 2 fireplaces, so we kept and burned the wood. With sunshine, water and fertilizer, the grass flourished. We had so much fun picking out new landscaping. We chose what appealed to us. A weeping larch, Japanese maple, grafted bonsai, weeping cherry. Seems like everything we bought had to have an unhappy sobbing, or crying word ahead of it’s name. I think I really just liked stuff that hung over or down. Then we spent hours deciding where everything should go. You could see the beautiful brick on the front of the house again.
|New landscaping. Josh & Jody going to prom|
Everything looked awesome. We poured a new patio in the backyard, put in a privacy fence and added a hot tub. This was our reward because we stopped smoking in May of 1990. Yay. Figured the cost of the hot tub was about a year’s worth of smokes.
Stella meanwhile had decided that being a homeowner was no longer in her best interest. I was bringing supper over to her almost every night, but she felt it was time to make a change. She was moving into a ritzy independent living facility about 5 miles away. She needed to downsize considerably, and asked me to help her price her belongings for a sale. I spent a lot of time at her house going through my antique books to get a bead on what some of her glassware was worth. I had no computer, EBay or Google back then. I was knowledgeable in any kind of antique oak furniture. I hadn’t stuffed my house so full that I had quit collecting yet. Wouldn’t be long though. That’s why I started collecting Waterford crystal. I had absolutely NO MORE ROOM for another piece of oak furniture unless I could hang it from the ceiling. Stella gave some of her heirlooms to step-grandchildren, kept many of her nice things, but sold a lot. She offered me anything she had for sale as payment for my pricing and working with her at the sale. I chose a scale she had used for years at motel/resort. It’s a black cast iron Fairbanks, and was used to weigh letters, and postcards for postage. It’s just the cutest thing. It has been on my mantle for 25 years. Until I had to strip my house of anything meaningful when we listed it for sale. Just an awful way to live. All my shelves, knickknacks, family pictures, half my furniture is in storage. Don’t get me started. Scale is there too, but this is close to what it looks like. I keep a picture postcard of Stella’s resort on the scale.
|Fairbanks postal scale|
Although we’d only live in this house 7 years (a new record for the nomad Van Berkum clan) it’s the last place where I really got to know all my neighbors. Three reasons in my case. School is number 1. Adam was in 10th grade when we moved to North Muskegon. Once he graduated, I no longer went to parent/teacher conferences, school activities or sporting events. You lose that connection with other parents, teachers and community. Another reason is age I think. Partly my fault too. The older I get, the harder it is to make friends when you move. People my age already have plenty of friends. It’s easier for me to just stay home and be content in the kitchen and my “nest.” We’ve been in this house in North Muskegon now over 20 years and I know a handful of folks. The town is about 4,000 people and a little bit snooty. I’m still an outsider. Wasn’t born and raised here. The last reason I was so well aquatinted with this group of Jackson/McCain Road people is I went to each and every house several times to get a petition signed. Yeah me, the most non-confrontational person on the planet. But that’s a blog story for another day. And it’s a doozy…
|The back yard finally discovers the sun…|