Sitting Under the Maple Tree With Nobody Else but Me…and Barkley

I sit out in my backyard most summer nights and take in the beauty of my yard. Barkley comes out with me and sits in the dirt under a plant he uses for shade. It’s a beautiful yard. It’s a peaceful one. It’s a yard with Peter memories since the yard is Peter. All of it. Peter worked hard in making it an oasis, perhaps for our older years together, most likely to leave his footprint for the years ahead, for others to enjoy after us.

Peter was a gardener. He planted flowers, wild grass, and trees for their beauty, to attract birds, and for privacy. He showed his love for me by his gardening skill. When I would give a passing ‘hydrangeas are so beautiful’ or ‘I had a Rose of Sharon in my front yard growing up”, he planted both for me. He knew I loved the one lilac bush in our yard, so he planted three more. When he was done, pride always beamed off of him, looking like the young man I dated who was eager to impress.

Every Mother’s Day, Peter would take me out to buy flowers for the front. I didn’t have much to say about the types. Peter did his research, and I rode his coattail. I had confidence that he knew which ones would grow best. He would ask me the colors I wanted. I would tell him and he would either agree or ask”how about these?” and pick out another color. I didn’t mind. The joy I saw on his face while we walked through the garden store was gift enough for me. Besides, my attachment to flowers was not nearly as strong as his.

Peter also adored his vegetable garden.It was something he grew up with and loved to do. I think it gave him a connection back to his roots. Yes, I get the pun. Peter built a three tier vegetable garden for water flow. Every spring around the second weekend in March, he made a mini green house around the garden for the seeds protection. From then on, Peter meticulously weeded and water as tomatoes, cilantro, pumpkins, various lettuce, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, rhubarb, and peppers in all sorts of colors sprouted. Most of them were the ‘we like’ vegetables. Some were ‘Peter liked’ and others were ‘Betsy liked’. What we couldn’t eat, we shared with neighbors or the local food banks.

This week, as I sat in my backyard under the huge, zen-like maple tree a young boy planted before we purchased the house over twenty-five years ago, I talked to Peter. I bought some flowers for the front this week, I told him. Don’t ask me what kind. They were pretty and instructions say they were hardy. Good enough for me. Then I laughed, knowing he would smile his crooked smile, maybe chuckle, maybe shake his head, probably all three. I didn’t get a lot. I mean, it looks fine, but I am sure not your fine. But you’re not here anymore, so I suppose I have to go with my fine.

The conversation dug some loneliness out of me. I thought Peter and I should be sitting out there, together, holding hands, he with a beer, and me with a glass of wine. It’s not like we ever did this, not really. I mean, we did, sort of . When he was alive I was more a ten-minutes-and-I’m-inside person. Mosquitoes love me and my allergic self. They never bothered Peter. But for some reason, I conjured up this picture of us, in our old age, or older age. And lately, I find myself out in the backyard more often, like almost every night, mosquitoes be damned. I’m not sure why other than trying to connect with the once-was, or the now-is and the backyard seems to give me both.

Yesterday night, was a very lonely night for me. The heaviness of missing Peter weighed on me like the humidity of the day. Weekend nights are unpredictable to me still. I miss him the most on Friday and Saturday nights. These nights, even with young kids, were our time. Now it’s Barkley and me time. So, as Barkley and I sat in the yard, I just let myself be. I didn’t talk to Peter. I didn’t dwell on my emptiness of him. I just was and let it all come in, not bothering to block it or push it away. And I felt him.

I felt him in the hummingbird dancing by the Rose of Sharon, and in the color exploding from a flower I can’t name, and growing out of the rhubarb still left behind. It didn’t really help my loneliness. I felt it anyway. I felt it in a way that was new to me. It wasn’t just in a longing, or a self-pity. I also felt a loneliness in looking at all he did for me and wishing I could have appreciate it all the more when he was alive. We think this won’t happen to me and when we do, we put off or ignore words to say, emotions to share until a tomorrow. Then those tomorrows never come.

After Peter died, his inside plants and vegetable garden died with him. Maybe they held too much of a reminder for me to tend to them. Maybe I was never that person who put much thought into gardening. Maybe my inability to even move, let alone take care of anything destroyed them. Or maybe all of the above, but they all died. The vegetable garden is left in tact, the three tiers full of dirt, for the next owner(s) to create what they will with it. The flowers and bushes and trees will stay with the house, the way I feel Peter intended them. Nature is not ours alone to keep, but for us to tend for the next.

This is my last summer in Peter’s yard. I know I will have new bushes and flowers and trees in my new place. New memories will spring from them. Still, it will be hard to walk away. And yet, whether I sit this summer in the yard Peter created, or next summer in my new one, every time I get a whiff of lilacs or see a bud on a Rose of Sharon, I will make it a point to say to Thank you, Peter, I was a lucky woman.