Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Chapter Two "Farm of My Dreams" Goodbye Gus's Garden

August was almost over and the hot Kansas sun proved that the month had lived up to every bit of it's infamous reputation. The climbing rose that I had planted just two months earlier was flourishing and had covered the entire side of an eight foot section of the garden fence. Despite the heat, each rose seemed so perfect; each flower a soft, peachy-pink, perfect paradigm. As I walked through what was left of the Bee Balm; very scant and almost replaced completely now by a few leaning bare stems, I reached down and picked up a small, hand painted wood sign that read: Here Lies Our Beloved Gus, July 16th, 2002.

Gus was a mini lop rabbit. He had been an Easter Bunny gift and when the family that he had been gifted to grew tired of caring for him after 5 years, they offered him to my Pre-school. Gus had been a great gardening partner. He spent his days providing my garden with fertilizer and the children in my care with much laughter. 

When Gus passed away from a combination of heat stroke and old age, we buried him under the thick Bee Balm where he had spent much of his summers sleeping. I was teased terribly before old Gus came along. My husband and children called me "Bunny Killer" due to my past bad luck with a few rabbits. I had a rabbit once that was eaten by a big dog, a rabbit that ate noxious weed and died, a rabbit that choked to death on hairballs, one that drowned in it's own water bowl and there was the one that I left in his cage, too close to the central air unit, but I don't like to think about him. Gus had been proof that I didn't really kill bunnies; at least not all of them.

"I guess the new owners won't need this." I held up the sign to my Big Guy, who had just come out to help.

"I hope they don't dig in that corner! Maybe we should take them with us." I proposed. Gus wasn't the only creature buried under the Bee Balm, he was in the company of another rabbit, a fan-tail goldfish, a world record size salamander, two gerbils and a rather large box turtle. We had a regular Pet Cemetary in that corner of the garden.

"And where would we put them?" my Big Guy said raising both eyebrows.

"You have a point. I guess we'll just have to hope the new owners like lots of Bee Balm."

Bee Balm was a favorite flower of mine and regardless of it's somewhat intrusive nature, I welcomed it back each year. I used it as a lovely backdrop in that corner of our vegetable garden. Our vegetable garden flanked the north side of our back yard patio and connected by border gardens surrounding the patio, to a larger flower garden that traveled along the entire back of our house. Our back yard was framed with a six foot tall privacy fence and was bordered with even more gardens. I loved gardening. I grew just about everything in that back yard. One of my favorite garden spots was under the Cottonwood tree in the southwest corner. That's where I grew herbs and strawberries. For quite a while, I couldn't understand why all of my strawberries kept disappearing until we caught Riley's chihuahua, Rocky, eating them one day.

I continued to walk through the garden picking up stone fairies, colorful windmills, gazing balls and other whimsies that had adorned it over the years. When I had an armful I would hand them over to Big Guy who would look at each one as if seeing them for the first time, chuckle and then whisk them away to the garage to be packed.

When Big Guy returned for another armful, we began a reminiscent journey that included stories of fences being moved multiple times and digging up two of the four Mutant Ninja Turtles one early spring while re-mulching the garden. Together we laughed until I cried.

I cried because even though I had dreamed of leaving this home someday for one in the country, we weren't leaving for that reason. We didn't have a new home to go to. In fact, we didn't even have a home to go to, period. But we had prayed for it to sell quickly and God had definitely heard our prayer.

A whirlwind of change had happened since I had seen my little Green Valley farmstead just three years earlier. When it was decided that the Green Valley home needed too much work, we had continued looking at more homes in the country and thought we had finally found it, a perfect piece of heaven about twenty miles north of town. The owners weren't in a hurry and wanted to wait until Spring, this worked out well since we would still need to sell our home and not have two house payments.

Feeling rather confident that the sale would go through, I made plans to close my Pre-school by the end of the school season and started to tell the parents so they could also make plans. The Pre-school that I had operated out of our walk-out basement for nearly twelve years, had a wonderful program with teachers that alternated morning and afternoon shifts. Our curriculum included teaching the children all of the fifty states, basic math and even some basic Spanish language. We kept a regular schedule and had a great group of kids ages three, four and a few that had already turned five. All of our children seemed happy and healthy and we had very little problems if any at all. We were one big happy Pre-school!

You can imagine the surprise when just a few weeks before my Pre-school was to close, we got a phone call from the mother of one of our three year olds, accusing us of injuring them. I should have seen it coming since she had started to ask strange questions shortly after I told her I would be closing the Pre-school. First she had asked me whether we had insurance in case of accidents, then the next day she wondered if our video camera taped the Pre-school every day. Without realizing what she was up to, I told her that our video recorder had been broken for quite some time and we just used the camera to monitor from the kitchen, and of course we had good insurance.

The next thing we knew, a lawyer had sent a threatening letter to us and to our Pre-school's insurance company, suing for three quarters of a million dollars. When it is your word against that of a hysterically crying mother accusing you of causing injury to her small helpless child, it's very hard to prove your innocence and you need a good lawyer.

All of the savings that was to be used on our new home in the country, went to pay our lawyer a retainer. Then to make things even worse, my Big Guy came home a few days later with a pink slip, his government job had lost their bid and he had been laid off. Since I had just closed my Pre-school, we had no income.

A month went by and after finally taking the only job he could find that paid well enough to support us, Big Guy left home to be an over the road truck driver. Soon I found work too. I did whatever I could to deal with lawyers, insurance people and debt that was beginning to pile up on us. Dave Ramsey is right, you need at least three months of income saved in order to survive a month without any income. Finally, after three months, I recieved notice that the Pre-school's Insurance lawyers had settled out of court for just twelve hundred dollars, the amount the family who was suing had owed their attorney. The lawsuit had been dropped, we had lost our entire savings, were still a month behind on of our bills and worst of all, we only saw each other for a day and a night once every two weeks or more. But we still had our home and Riley.

All of the older children were grown and living their own lives, some far away and some with-in a days drive. Since Riley was the only one still living at home during this time, the two of us did our best without my Big Guy but he was missing so many things that we were used to sharing. Finally he decided it was too difficult being away from us and quit his truck driving job. Almost immediately he found another job, in fact he found two jobs and worked both night and day.

Then because my Big Guy was determined to do better, he applied for a job that came open with the City and got it. By that time I had a fairly good paying property management job and soon we started talking about our dreams for a home in the country again. Even though we knew it would take time to start saving for it, the light at the end of our tunnel begin to shine brighter.

But things weren't going to be that simple. As we were climbing back out of our financial hole and had even found a way to make extra income to save for Riley's college by starting an amusement business, our mortgage company sent us a letter that said our payments were going to almost double.

Later that same week I lost my wonderful job. My boss just came into my office and with absolutely no warning or any reason given, he told me I was being "let go". I was crushed and of course demanded to know why but he just said that I should accept it and I had ten minutes to clear out. I have my theories as to why, but have never been able to prove them. The company I worked for seemed to be skimming money off of the accounts that were meant to be used for the properties improvements. They would have me write out checks to cover their personal vacation and partying expenses and then ask me to code them as "employee training". I had just questioned this for the second time a few days before I was "let go" and was told not to worry about it but I did worry since I felt I would be held responsible and this property was under a government program. But like I said, I really didn't have any proof.

I went home that night and tearfully told my Big Guy what had happened and after we brain stormed a while on how to make up for my lost income and higher mortgage payments, we reached the only decision we felt could get us caught up with our debt and that was to sell our home, so we did.

Saying goodbye was much harder than I thought it would be. Not so much to the house as it was to our memories there. The house itself had always seemed like a money pit. It started with the discovery of massive termite damage shortly after we moved in, a very good lesson in the importance of hiring a home inspector before you buy! Thirty thousand dollars in repairs later, our original seventy thousand dollar purchase had now become a one hundred thousand dollar investment.

The upstairs toilet was possessed. It would never finish flushing and in the late night hours, when you were trying to sleep, it would come to life and torture you with gurgling and sputtering sounds. Just as you couldn't take another second and got out of bed to go and jiggle the handle, the thing would stop as if to taunt you. And before you ask why we didn't put in new parts, we did! I finally had my revenge after ten years when we were financially able to replace it. I wanted so badly to take it out in the yard and throw a sledge hammer at it, but a friend convinced me to donate it to charity although I couldn't understand why he would want to give a demonic toilet to someone in need.

There were other problems with this house that continued to plague us financially, and just as we fixed one thing, something else always took it's place, but the memories we had made together in our garden had been teaching opportunities about life. They had strengthened us and cemented us together as a family. I think nature does that.

Once while planting a new row of snap-dragons to replace the ones that had died the year before, Riley asked me a startling question. "Mom, when I grow up, will you be dead?"

She was only five at the time and I wasn't sure of what to say so I tried to answer her question with a question; I learned that from her father.

"Well what do you think?" I asked her back.

"When I'm a mom will you be dead?" she countered my question with another question.

I laughed at this point and thought about how she had also learned that from her father and then reminded her that my mother was still alive and that hopefully someday, her children would be calling me grandma too.

When Riley was about 12, she decided to plant every different type of pepper she could find. We had an abundance of cherry tomatoes that year and she even learned how to make salsa. She bought the canning jars and even designed her own labels that said, "Riley's Red Hot Salsa", with a tagline that read, "made fresh from the garden". Everyone she gave a jar of her salsa to, loved it, but Riley was such a picky eater, she never even ate her own salsa!

Besides a large assortment of peppers and cherry tomatoes, this garden that engulfed our back yard, was home to a huge variety of perennials, annuals and two very tall pampas grass that grew on each side of the entrance to the patio. Almost like Mafia guards that frisked you with their long grass blades each time you passed between them, by the end of Summer these two giants reached a height of at least twelve feet.

One year we built a small red barn behind the vegetable garden in the northeast corner. On each side of the back of the barn, we added a doggie door. It became a small dog kennel for our two Bassett Hounds. Big Guy had a male named Bullwinkle and I had a female named BillieJo. Eventually, nature took over and a perfect litter of eight puppies were born. Riley learned first hand about babies being born since she had the opportunity to help with the births. We had such fun memories of floppy eared Bassett Hound's running all over the back yard, our grandchildren carrying them everywhere.

But now the Bassetts were gone, there were no more peppers to pick, Riley was living with her oldest sister in another city and in just a few moments we would be leaving our home of the past thirteen years; thirteen years of birthday parties, holidays, back yard barbecues and retrieving baseballs thrown over the fence. For thirteen years this had been a place our children could come back to, had brought our grandchildren to and affectionately said, "Mom, we're coming home!". I wondered where they would call home now.

As I picked up the final piece of yard art, a small grinning frog holding a sign that read, "I Eat What Bugs Me!", and scanned the garden from my perspective to make certain nothing was missed, I said goodbye to memories of small, impish children running through sprinklers on hot Summer afternoons, of rabbits grazing on blades of grass and cats chasing squirrels along the fence tops. I said goodbye to the tire swing and the giant cottonwood tree from which it hung and goodbye to the picket fence I had my poor Big Guy move three times before I finally decided I liked it best in it's original location.

"Do you think we'll find it?" I asked as my Big Guy took the frog from my hand.

"Find what?" he said, cocking his head to the side.

Looking into the eyes of the man that I had once promised to share my life with through better or worse, I said, "Will we find a way to make our dreams come true?"

"We will, I know we will? he assured me and together we went on our way.

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." JEREMIAH 29:11 NIV

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