Better Homes and Gardens
by Chavon Barry
I stare out the backseat van window spotted with raindrops that enlarge and then race in forked patterns over the glass. Ready, set, go. I tease two twin dots. They accept my challenge and fall. I can’t tell which one wins. One curves left and the other slowly disappears before reaching the sill. The contest ends when tires crunch over the familiar gravel driveway.
We’ve arrived at Grandma’s house. My ten-year-old eyes light up because when I’m here, I believe the storybooks are real. She lives in a rustic log cabin. In the summer her property overflows with apple trees: crabapple, MacIntosh, Golden Delicious. In the winter the stone fireplace crackles and sparks.
The house sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. Inside there’s a real hidden staircase that leads to the attic. It’s the perfect height for giddy grandchildren.
I go up the stairs and find Grandma’s big blue trunk filled with her old skirts and blouses. I rifle through them, looking for the floor-length brown wool skirt. I slip it on and become royalty. My fingers trace the gable roofline and cloth-covered walls as I walk toward the secret room at the end of the hall. I step into it and soak up the cedar-pane window view. Grandma’s city-tour-stop flowers bloom below and the wide ocean expands ahead.
For today, this cabin is my castle.
“Chavon, can you weed around the rhododendron?” Mom closes the Better Homes and Gardens magazine I’m reading. I give her a teenage eye-roll, stand but continue to think about the article.
What style is your home? Tudor? Victorian? Colonial? Country French? I can’t say that any of these categories match my parents’ 80’s-built-split-level. Maybe one day I’ll design my own house but for now I wait, imagine and try to predict the future.
My best friend and I play a game called M.A.S.H. The acronym stands for mansion, apartment, shack or house and the answer will measure how successful I’ll be.
I choose four possible husbands, three car models, and five numbers to represent potential children.
My friend presses pen to paper and draws a spiral. Around and around it goes until I say, “Stop.” All I need do is say the word. She’ll do the math and map out my adult years.
“Stop daydreaming,” Mom says as she puts gardening gloves in my hands.
I marry Joshua and we have three boys that race raindrops from the back of a van.
”Are we there yet?” They ask and I secretly wonder with them.
We live in a two-bedroom ground floor rental suite with chipped paint and a broken window the landlord never bothered fixing before we moved in. The view is uninspiring–a thick hedge on one side and a leaning fence on the other. I can’t see over them.
If I’m honest, I grieve the distance between my expectations and lived reality. I grieve what I can’t control or design. There are too many variables and every time I try to play architect a new one appears.
I sit in my yellow chevron-striped rocking chair with the ripped sleeve. My friend bought it second-hand and restored it for her nursery. Then she gave it to me when her son preferred to be bounced. I nursed two babies in it and, though it’s worn, it’s my favorite chair.
The truth is, despite a tendency to complain, I see the gifts too. The fingerprints of grace dance all over our house—the tiny muddy fingerprints of our children but also the soil-stained hands of friends and family, of help.
I’d love to tell each gift’s story—the bed frame, the freezer, the kitchen table, the car, the trampoline in the back, the X-box, the dishwasher, the stack of borrowed books, the hand-me-down clothes.
Behind the free furnishings and met needs are hot tea visits and shared tears; promised prayers and Saturday dinners; evening walks and listening ears. I’m far from alone.
I think about what Moses says to the Israelites in Deuteronomy. “You’ll know you’re in the promised land when your houses are filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide.”
My house may not be magazine worthy but I’m learning to see the hidden staircase.
I open the Bible and read from the beginning.
Adam and Eve hide from the sound of God’s footsteps as he walks in the cool of the day through his garden. He searches for them. They need him but they are afraid.
When he finds them, he clothes them.
I shut my eyes and for a minute I’m the little girl dressed in wool beside the cedar window. The garden is beautiful, the ocean wide. Over the years I’ve become well acquainted with fear but right now I’ll delight in the flowers the Gardener keeps planting here and in the invitation to dig my hands into the soil and learn how seeds grow.
Chavon Barry writes about faith, beauty and mess. She’s a mom to three boys, a wife, a teacher and an editor at Collected Online Arts Magazine. She calls Vancouver Island, Canada home. Connect with her on Facebook and on her website: www.chavonbarry.weebly.com.