In the summer of ’78 we had been in our house for a few months. We were a good team. One of us had a down payment and a steady job, and the other knew how to fix stuff. I was hopeful we would have a good garden someday, but at that point I was still waiting to see what was already in the ground. What would pop up. All kinds of stuff popped up.

There was big stuff too: a locust, a hawthorn, a couple dogwoods, a Norway maple, and on the alley side, a mature ornamental cherry with big floppy flowers. Also, there was one of those structures charitably referred to, in the neighborhood, as a “garage.” It was thirty years past dilapidated. The kid across the alley liked to climb on it. I figured we were one growth spurt away from him going through the roof and straight into a lawsuit. It was a mess.
One weekend we took off for the coast and didn’t get back home until well after dark. We fell into bed and the next morning Dave got up first, as usual. He tromped downstairs to the kitchen and gazed out the window, perplexed. Gazed some more. And then came back and sat on the bed.
“You know that garage you were worried about the kids climbing on?”
I did.
“You don’t have to worry about it anymore. They burned it down.”
It was the damnedest thing. The garage and the cherry tree and half of the hedge were so completely erased that they didn’t even register as missing. In fact, my first thought, upon looking out the window, was only that there was a lot more sunlight out there. There wasn’t even any debris. Just a flat, blackened moonscape.
First thing I did was go knock on some doors. I’d avoided meeting the neighbors. I don’t remember what experience led me to that sorry attitude, but I lived in fear of having a close neighbor who drove me nuts but I couldn’t get rid of, and I thought the best thing to do was just lay low. Now, it occurred to me that whatever happened in our yard was probably pretty exciting and maybe someone would want to tell us about it.
We met a bunch of neighbors including the fireman who lived across the street and later became a city commissioner. He was a real hero that day. Everyone agreed it was highly exciting. Boy howdy! Sucker went up like a bomb, it did.
It was a shame about the cherry tree. It’s not coming back. Some things don’t. But nobody was going to miss the garage. It would be hard to overstate how ugly it was, how dangerous. It was filled with old newspapers, a neighborhood shopper that some child was probably paid to distribute once a week, and dumped in there instead. It was pure fuel, ready to roar, just ready for a child with a cigarette. Even with it finally gone, we didn’t have a clean slate: half the yard was charred. The maple dropped most of its leaves. Bits of debris, old nails and hardware, would keep turning up for years. But neighbors had turned into friends. We learned people need each other. There was so much more sunlight. So much possibility. We could almost see, now, the form a new garden could take. It would be a lot of work, but we were up for that.
And new green was already poking up from the ashes.