We are in the heart of the season of the yard once again, this year more essential than ever as besides regular walks to the park and minimal shopping trips, we are essentially homebound. This holiday weekend more households than ever will join us (hopefully – the less outings now the more likely that school will open in September, public health experts say). V is happiest in the reclining chair and I sit beside him on the hammock, both of us in reassuring seats we’ve had since soon after we moved here, when having a house was a new experience after living in apartments my whole adult life, the first time I had my own yard. Both seating showed me much about what lasts and what does not.
My parents bought us the chair, a simple classic that could lean back in several positions and used to have an awning to protect from the sun. I had no idea of its staying power or the opportunity it would afford again and again to lean back and look up at leaves dancing in the sun, a near religious experience – the closest I come to believing in God or some higher power that created these beautiful trees providing shade and shelter and that keep the yard sun dappled and comfortable in the summer heat.
Last weekend we sat in the light rain, protected by big branches, V content in the recliner, oblivious to its frayed and stained fabric or the drops leaving it damp and cool. It is his outdoor version of Annie’s chair, his go to place for comfort, especially these last four months when he can’t fathom why he is spending so much time at home, our boredom and frustration allayed in small part by the pleasures a yard affords.
The hammock was a generous gift from my friend F, who came and helped me get settled in when we first moved here. I remember driving to Target with her to get a few other things and I thought this is the beginning of my new life, which will be filled with friends, expendable income and time; as if social outings with a cart full of lamps and rugs and pillows or other welcome but nonessential items would be a regular occurrence.
I used to joke that it mocked me as a symbol of relaxation as it seemed every time I sank into its malleable support I’d have to jump up and run after V. I was especially miffed 8 years ago when former speaker of the House Paul Ryan said during budget negotiations‘ “We don’t want “to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency and dependence”, which seemed especially mean-spirited and inaccurate but these days seems tame and at least articulate compared to a typical tweet from our current leader, who shares Ryan’s sentiments towards those in need.
F knew me since I lived on 14th Street a block from Union Square and my beloved greenmarket but a subway ride from the green I grew to crave more with each year. A short trip took me to enormous parks and botanical gardens and all the urban beauty the city had to offer. I never could have imagined a big yard or how much time we’d spend here.
When I moved to a Brooklyn apartment with a view people said you’ll ignore it after awhile but I never stopped looking out the window at the city for one single day. I saw it covered in snow; bright in spring time; smoggy and smoldering in summer. I saw buildings hit and collapse on 9/11, watching the world change before my eyes. I am grateful to no longer be in an apartment never more than now when the days are so long to fill. And I never take my yard or its furniture for granted.
F has no recollection of her gift, of all the time she spent with me and later with our family when the boys were younger, since Alzheimer’s has played havoc with her memory. The last time we spoke on the phone she asked where I lived and if I was married and had kids. Yes and yes I wanted to say, you helped me settle in, you bought me a wonderful hammock that has held us all for 15 long yard seasons, as we push outdoor time from early spring to late autumn to enjoy this favorite room of our home.
We’ve had much that hasn’t worked out or has needed replacing: unused platform and rope swings and wading pools V treated as a science experiment, placing clumps of grass and uprooted plants inside. We’re currently on our third trampoline, our second set of outdoor table and chairs, a third grill. My neighbors recovered our last set of splintering wooden chairs, stripped and repainted brightly and now enjoy them on their front porch. I’m glad they have a second life, as time-consuming home improvement projects are not in our repertoire.
As with inside the house, V maintains his OCD/feng shui predilection to turn chairs and tables sideways so only our two seats stay upright. As Ruby gets older she is more like a cat spending hours in the sun asleep. The three of us take our familiar positions, comfortable in their sameness.
Impermanence is our friend during quarantine. This won’t last, I tell myself thousands of times, to calm my frayed nerves. And yet the things that do last are so reassuring. We’ll be here tomorrow and the next day and weeks and months, for as long ahead as we can until the temperature dips so low it sends us back inside.