This post is the next in a series of posts I have dubbed “The Firehouse Chronicles.” See all episodes.
Jim and I meet at the house on Saturday morning, the day after closing. It’s his birthday and we’ve planned a party for that evening, both a birthday party and a house-warming. Turning the key in the lock and opening the door feels like we are opening a door into a new life. Chloe rushes in sniffing corners and I smile, thinking we are all, more or less, doing the same thing, walking from room to room trying to take in the space, the smells, the light.
In the kitchen, I pop the bottle of champagne I’ve brought and Jim and I hug and kiss, in awe that we are actually standing in the kitchen of a house we now own. Together.
I realize I have forgotten to bring glasses for the champagne, but we find a box of old canning jars, filled with dead spiders that I wash out and we drink our champagne, laughing. I snap a picture of the moment.
“We really did this!” I say. “Where do we start?”
“I think we need to christen this place,” he says, pushing me against the counter and kissing me again, hands reaching under my shirt.
I give Jim his birthday gift of garden gloves and machete which he immediately presses into service, tackling the blackberries with gusto. I’ve brought clippers and a battery-powered hedge trimmer and do my own wrangling. Before long, I have uncovered a stone wall along the side of the house, and untangle a hidden Japanese maple, planted in a half barrel. It’s like unburying treasure and hard to stop, but we need to get ready for the party. Jim continues while I head off to pick up his mother, Joyce and then the food from the Mexican food truck that Jim ordered from.
Joyce and I arrive back at the house to find the first guests, Jim’s uncle, aunt and cousins already having a tour of the house. Soon, the house is filled with people, and we conduct tour after tour. Thankfully, some of the guests have brought folding chairs, as there is no furniture. Many of Jim’s firefighting colleagues offer construction ideas and a few seem as excited as we are, perhaps the house representing a vicarious dream. The bifold living room windows are original to the house and most are slid open so people perch on the window ledges. The Mexican food is quickly devoured. People bring fire house themed housewarming gifts (an old fire truck nozzle, a CD of the band, “Fire House,” firemen figurines, and a kid’s fire engine book) and I realize that we will likely wind up with a collection of fire house kitsch in the years to come. The party has the effect of cementing our excitement, seeing other people’s reaction to the house, their imagination about it’s potential makes us both feel as if our rash, impulsive purchase was a perfect choice.
The next morning, we are excited to get back to our clearing, but our pile of brush is out of control.
“Should we get a chipper?” Jim asks. This question comes up every time we do yard work together and for the first time, I find myself saying yes. I leave Jim to continue working while I head off to McClendans, our local, family-owned version of Home Depot and choose a monster which one of the staff helps me try to lift into my Prius. When it doesn’t fit, he calls another staff member on his radio to bring a wrench and they remove the feeding spout so that it will fit into the car. The chipper is immediately pressed into service.
Jim trots down the hill dragging an odd assortment of the trash he finds in the brambles. Apparently, they have been a convenient dumping ground for our neighbors on three sides.
There are countless shoes and balls, tires and entire seats from a car, a broken wheel barrel, rusted cans of paint, rotted timbers, dried up rolls of sod, moldy tubes of carpeting, and full garbage bags that we don’t dare open.
At 9pm, we are exhausted, filthy, scratched and bruised, hungry and thirsty. The sun has yet to set, so we light up the grill we have found in the old garden shed and grill a steak and eat as we sit in a couple of rescued lawn chairs (still entwined with vines) and the sun go down, admiring the transformation we have manifested.
“We could continue the stone wall to create a little patio back here,” I suggest, imaging the entire area covered in stone, a grill and little retaining wall, maybe some steps up the hill.
Jim reins me in. “I think it’s going to be plenty of work just to clear all these brambles, never mind building walls and patios.”
“I know, but it’s fun to fantasize. I can’t wait to see it all cleared, so we can see what we actually have.”
“Those branches touching the house have to go,” Jim says pointing up and before he takes his next bite of steak, he has the chainsaw in hand and is climbing a ladder where he reaches up and lops off a branch. It’s fun to see Jim’s excitement, to revel in our common purpose, to begin the process of working together to uncover our mutual dream.