09 July 2008

The New Hyde Park Lily

My paternal grandfather is probably the only person I will have ever known who was born and died in the same house. In the house. He was born in 1900, at home, as happened in those days. He died there too, after having moved into a hospital bed in the living room. And except for time away from home for college and law school, and a few years living in a nearby house when he was newly married, he lived out his whole life in the same house.

It was a farm house, built in the late 1800s, added onto once or twice. It had a front porch and a sun-room, one indoor bathroom and one unheated powder room accessible only from the back porch. It had a bit of land around it, with a sour cherry tree, a huge copper beech, and a grape arbor. There was a garage (once a stable), with an attic loft and a root cellar. Grandpa would buy a bushel of oysters every winter and keep them in the root cellar 'til they were gone.

After he died in 1988, my grandmother continued to live there, though in a much diminished state - it was as though she had just checked out. And when she died, the house was sold.

There was a moment when one of my cousins was going to buy the house, but she was unable to pull it off. Over the course of about nine months, the children and the grandchildren gradually cleaned out the house. We found homemade liquor put away during prohibition, and baby clothes from the turn of the century. There were quilts and lace curtains, huck towels and glassware. The cellar was full of books and jars and tools, and a stunning glass vase, five feet high. There were metal film canisters with home movies from the 40s and 50s. My grandfather's pipes were awaiting another smoker. His handmade ankle boots were snapped up by a cousin with the same sized feet.

One day, I was poking around and found a lily coming up in the rose garden. I dug it up and stuck it in a hideous turquoise plastic wastebasket, and planted it at my mother's house. It turned out to be a dark orange-red, which clashed with everything in her garden, but she tolerated it. When we moved into our house four years ago, she said "you're going to take that lily, right?" And so I did.

The first couple of years, it sent up a flower stalk, but the buds were summarily eaten by some nefarious creature. This year, it bloomed.


I can't imagine how old it is. I dug it up in 1992, and there hadn't been any gardening going on there for some time. But it seems happy, it's got babies coming up around it, and this year, it thwarted the wildlife.

My grandfather's house is still standing, but three tiny crappy houses now surround it - two to one side, and one to the other. The house is in terrible condition, an antique falling into desuetude. We drive by once in a while, but it's increasingly sad to see what's happening. But that little piece of it lives on - the lily in my backyard.

26 comments:

Julia said...

wow-- what a story. I love these generations-long stories. Mine are uprooted across continents. The apartment I lived in all my life in the Old City is the same one my mom lived all her life there in, although it was much smaller than what my great-grandfather owned by the time my mom was born (it was chopped into three, and the family kept one piece). I showed Monkey the windows of that apartment when we were in the City last year, and this year she told me she saw the building and the windows again.
The lily is lovely. I am glad you have it.

DD said...

What a gorgeous color!

The house my great-grandfather built is still lived in by my parents and I was raised there. I can't imagine strangers ever living there.

You must be thrilled to have a living reminder of your grandfather.

Kirsetin said...

That is a great story and a beautiful lily. I can't believe it bloomed like that! How cool to look out at that flower and think of the past that it's "seen."

Aunt Becky said...

What a cool story, Magpie. I love it. Thank you for sharing.

Lady M said...

I'm glad you rescued the lily!

I've heard that the average American now moves once every 6-8 years. A lifetime in one home would be amazing.

Kyddryn said...

There was a house a few miles from where I now live that was much like that - it had an interesting roof line and was obviously once part of a large farm long since cut into tracts and sold or paved for roads. I watch, over the years, as it faded, sagged, and eventually declined into a pile of old boards by the road, and I felt sorrow for the loss.

I used to dream about buying that house and making a quilt shop out of it, or an old-fashioned country store selling local produce and tchotchkes.

I adore creaky old houses that have voices, that mumble and groan when one walks through them, that whisper, whistle, and sing in the wind and smell of wood and time.

I'm glad you have the lily, a lovely crimson reminder of days gone by.

Shade and Sweetwater,
K

Mental P Mama said...

This is a wonderful story, and that lily is a story in itself. Enjoy.

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Dutch at the blog Sweet Juniper just wrote about his grandfather's house, which is similar in spirit to what you describe. He's trying to buy it, may not be able to pull it off.

My hub & I sometimes talk about moving into a condo when our kids are grown, but stories like this make me want to keep our house & later give it to one of the kids.

I have a lily that exact same color in my yard. It's quite a color!

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

This is a great story--and a gorgeous lily.

Sober Briquette said...

I'm so glad I read this just now.

Fiona is tired to the point of getting sick and had two tantrums today. The second one was in the tune of "I hate this house. It's too big, too old, too horrid."

And there I was, so excited (ironically) because when I was trying to put in a couple of plants earlier, I discovered the most incredible clay for us to dig up and throw.

RuthWells said...

Gorgeous. (The story and the lily both.)

Awesome Mom said...

That is a beautiful lily with a neat story.

Janet said...

I like lilies with a colourful background.

It's absolutely stunning.

Rima said...

I adored this post. Your description of your grandfather's house and its treasures was so vivid, I relished picturing it in my mind's eye. And I love the fact that you have all these transplanted things in your garden, each with it's own associated memories.

The New Mom on the Blog said...

All these memories...they are treasures....and with such details...you must have a special place in your heart for your grand-parents and the house...

Waiting Amy said...

Wow, I think it is a beautiful color, how could it clash? Lovely story of your grandfather. I'm glad it is thriving this year.

Cactus Petunia said...

What a great story...and a beautiful heirloom!
Love your new header, by the way.

ALM said...

That's a great story. It was especially meaningful to me as just the other day I went to a client's apartment to find some of her personal documents (she is 94 & in the hospital) and I looked around at all the belongings & history & realized that when she died - she has no family - all this history will be gone.

So it was especially nice to hear a story about continuity.

i am very mary said...

Beautiful story - thank you!

Queen Goob said...

Even though the house passed into different hands, how much fun was it going through decades of really cool stuff?!?!

The lily is beautiful; so happy it found the perfect home.

Queen Goob said...

I totally forgot to forward this. I'm an old house NUT; here is one of my absolute places to browse and dream: http://www.historicproperties.com/

Anjali said...

What life, in that little flower.

And what a beautiful story!

phd in yogurtry said...

That stunning lilly - What a wonderful token of your memories of your grandparents' home!

Did you ever get to look at the family movies?

phd in yogurtry said...

That stunning lilly - What a wonderful token of your memories of your grandparents' home!

Did you ever get to look at the family movies?

MadMad said...

This was such a wonderful post! I will never again forget my laptop cord - it is too hard to go without for so long. But I loved, loved, loved this. A great read, a great story, and a great ending. (I've heard that putting little pans of beer out under the lilies gets rid of the snails. It either drowns them or fills them up, I'm not sure which, but it keeps them from snacking on the flowers before they bloom.)

Melissa said...

What a great story for me to read today. That lily is just wonderful. :)