Monday, August 4, 2014

Back Yards

My husband and I have never had backyard neighbors. Until now.

Growing up in Clearwater, Florida, my husband had a pasture behind his house.  I don't think a cow ever set foot on it, but there it was, complete with barn, the perfect hideaway for sly adolescent boys to sneak off and try out cigars and chewing tobacco, then throw up behind the building.  I am glad Mark had a negative experience; it saved him from a lifetime of smoking.

In my Jacksonville, Florida childhood home, there was a house behind ours, but it wasn't visible with thick foliage from our orange trees, and then a tall hedge of Japanese Ewe on their side. Hiding inside was a plethora of paper wasp nests, occupants with evil stingers waiting patiently for me to climb the chain-link fence, a short cut to a friend on the next road. If I was in my swim suit, I could run and leap into our backyard pool, holding my breath long enough for the wasps to give up and go home. They attack in droves. I never knew the people that lived there and I don't think they liked fence-climbing kids.

Our first home was tiny, smaller than most apartments, close to Clearwater in Pinellas Park, Florida.  It was small, but it was ours!  We had a huge 200 foot deep back yard. Beyond that was an unused service road that was once used for trash pickup and and tall with weeds and trees. There was man that lived in a house at the front of his equally long back yard. Standing at our patio door in the dining area of our eat-in kitchen, we couldn't see past our own backyard.  That was not a bona fide backyard neighbor, wouldn't you think?

We relocated to Jacksonville and purchased our second home, double the size of our first, had a big cow pasture.  It was visible from the breakfast nook and the french doors in the great room. The sun worn old owner, Mr. Williams, would ride the fences, thin and wiry as a cowboy should be. He'd tip his hat if I was in our back yard and let me know when he planned to plant rye, let the "girls" out, and warn me of the big bulls during breeding season. Our son was a toddler and the fear of him getting into the pasture was real.

Mark was transferred to Central Florida, and we chose a home in the City of Apopka. Three thousand square feet was almost twice the size of the Jacksonville house and had dozens of kitchen cabinets and wondrous multiple drawers. Looking out the kitchen window, was a screened in pool, and beyond that, the wooded forest of the Wekiva State Park. The same view was from our formal living room and master bedroom.  Our oldest son was lucky, he didn't have to look past the screened pool area.  The only neighbors there were bunnies and turkeys, deer and bears.  Sometimes we'd enjoy a covey of quail, slipping in and out of the bushes for cover, or a small red fox, beady eyes worried for his safety. There was no concern where I was concerned. I adored those special foxy sightings. We used to slip through the barbed wire fence for a hike through the blackjack pines, sandy forest floor covered with long needles. It was so exciting to find giant bear prints in the sand, as big as a dinner plate, and next to those, delicate slices from deer hooves.  Exciting and scary.  What was lurking behind the next big granddaddy oak?

Children grown and gone and my parents aging, we returned to my hometown of Jacksonville, where we bought a smaller house, 1320 square feet of well-appointed space.  It doesn't feel small, until you check out the kitchen cabinets of our eat-in kitchen. "Eat-in" means it is big enough to walk around comfortably and there is room for a cafe table and two chairs. There are two kitchen drawers and eight cabinets.  We added more in the garage for storage.  Our patio door looks out to a nice back yard with lots of tall trees. We have a big deck and tall stockade fence.  What is beyond our back fence?  Interstate 295.  That's right! A busy eight-lane highway.

We have gone from a lifetime of no backyard neighbors to sharing our backyard with everyone in the entire city.  When cars drive by, it sounds like ocean waves. The motorcycles are another story. They're really loud like jet skis.  I lay in bed at night and pray for the navy guys, headed back to the base  in a big hury after the bars close at 2 AM. Those boys have mothers!  They say that there will soon be a giant cement silencer wall. I have plans to paint mine with a forest scene.