When we bought our house in 1996, it had not had a regular occupant for some time. It was owned by an older Latvian woman and the house had served as a landing pad for her family and friends immigrating to the United States. They came, lived here until they got on their feet, and then moved on. In some ways, it felt like the house that time forgot, clearly last redone in the 1950s as evidenced by the floral wallpaper, the choice of fixtures, and the pink bathroom (including a pink tub). The yard was filled with perennials and decorative bushes but had not been properly tended to in many years. It was overgrown and overwhelming.
We tackled the inside first, stripping wallpaper, patching plaster and repainting, replacing fixtures and appliances, and taking out a false wall that had divided the largest bedroom into two small rooms. We loved the work and we were good at it. We redid every room but the bathroom within the first year. The bathroom required professionals because we wanted to replace the tub, sink, toilet, tile, and floor. In 1999, we took it down to the studs ourselves and had a contractor do the rest, replacing that old pink tub with a claw foot tub cast in in 1913, the same year the house was built.
We have occasionally tried to tame the yard but gardening is not our strong suit and despite our intermittent efforts, our yard remains wild.
There are two giant lilac "bushes" at the back of the yard that are now taller than our garage. I have been at war with the lilacs for 22 years because of the weeds that grow unchecked in their enormous shadows and the new growth that looks messy and feels unmanageable. We have tried everything we can think of to deal with the weeds and the new sprouts without success. Luisa has trimmed them lovingly and I have hacked at them in anger and frustration. I have threatened to have them removed and replaced with a concrete slab. But Luisa thinks they are beautiful and always answers my irrational rants with, "They block the alley from view. They are worth keeping for that alone." She has a point. My fear of looking out the window and seeing the trashcans in the alley is the only thing that has saved them.
Last year, we had them professionally trimmed but they are still as large and unruly as they have ever been. The weeds still taunt me from their shadows. But I also know they are here to stay. They were here before us and they will be here long after we have left.
Our bedroom windows face the lilacs and the other night, I slept with all the windows open to enjoy the cool night breeze and as I lay there in bed, under a quilt that feels like home, the sweet smell of the lilacs drifted into my room and I took a deep breath, smiled, and whispered, "Fine. You win."