Tuesday, November 8, 2011
An old Greek Revival house came into my possession by marriage. Austere, dark, and vacant for over 20 years, it was a place I would never have chosen myself to live as a new bride. I rolled up my sleeves and began helping with the renovations that lasted five years. We tore up and then rebuilt the house room by room, following the mimeographed guidelines I had written to the National Historic Resistry for. The house was in the inner city and we had no intention of staying there - we only wanted to turn it into a money maker and then build a country home and start a family. As a newlywed, I didn't have much time to properly nest or to use the new wedding presents still packed in boxes. As we peeled wallpaper, sanded and painted, I began to see the charms of the place. I was helped along by a large sepia photograph of a little boy in a dress that I found in the basement.
I determined the photo was Mr. DuBois, the man whose house we bought. His son, a physician, took back the mortage so that we could afford the place. I called Dr. DuBois and asked if he wanted the photograph and told him I would ship it to him in thanks for being our bank. He said no, the gold framed photograph of his father belonged to the house. So I hung Mr. DuBois on the dining room wall with the hope that one day I would be able to have at least one dinner party under his gaze and perhaps use the pretty heirloom silver we were given as a wedding gift.
It did not take long to realize that Mr. DuBois was an amateur horticulturalist when he occupied the house. A roll-top desk in a spare bedroom was filled with jars of old seeds and more than a few ancient manuals on plants and their uses. The garden was decrepit but it told me it was designed by someone who knew what they were doing. It was easy to see its bones in the row of boxwood and the snarled rose bushes placed in each corner of the postage stamp backyard. The trellises leaning up against the house had dried vines woven throughout but there was an enchanting archway with a built in bench, still strong and sturdy. Also well-built was a small glass greenhouse filled with ornamental terra cotta pots of all sizes. This garden was loved into existence and it must have been a lovely city oasis.
We completed the renovations and it was time to sell the house so we could build that dream home. I did not leave it reluctantly and was glad to see the work behind us. However, I paused when I removed Mr. DuBois from the dining room wall. I had always planned on taking the young Mr. DuBois with us when we moved. I wanted this elegant reminder of the house and what we had accomplished. But on moving day, I found myself placing the photograph back on its perch. The new owner promised to look after him for me. Mr. DuBois did indeed belong to the house... and to the garden.