It’s spring. As you walk around your neighborhood, you admire the daffodils growing in the big yard of a home you frequently pass.
It’s a one-story brick house with a detached garage. The yard is mature and expansive. The lot is at least half an acre. Some of the rhododendrons are so big that kids could climb them. The couple that lives there are in their 90s. You never see young children visit, but the Schwan truck makes regularly deliveries.
Spring turns to summer. One day you see the husband out in his front yard, swinging an ax. He’s repairing the split-rail fence with lumber he felled from his own trees. You have the feeling that the man must have built the house himself.
The home has that look about it — old, but well-constructed. There’s probably an oil tank buried in the garden that you can’t see. The best part of the house is its yard; the trees are so tall that it looks like the home is nestled in the forest.
When fall comes, the big leaf maple leaves cause drama. They blow all over the sidewalk and make it slippery for the neighborhood children who walk to school. One day the husband comes outside with an ancient mulcher and clears the debris away. In October, the wife puts a bowl of candy by the front door and pipes spooky music through the window.
Snow falls, winter comes, and the couple brings out a few Christmas decorations — but not like they used to. There aren’t mobs of cars in their driveway on Christmas day. The house is quiet, and you start to worry about them. But then you see smoke drift up from the chimney, and you know all is well.
The couple dies one week apart from each other, and it shocks you, even though you know they were old. The inheritors discover that the land is worth more than the house. Instead of one small home on a giant lot, there could be three large houses smashed together. Plus, if most of the trees are cut down, there would be a view.
This is great news, say local realtors. Housing prices are going up. New construction is buzzworthy and spiffs up the whole neighborhood. Zillow tells you the same thing.
But you’re sad for the old house and feel the loss of the two people who lived there. Progress feels like a scrape against the core of what it used to mean to be an American. Fifty years ago, people wanted land, privacy and self-reliance. Now they want gourmet kitchens, prefabricated decks and automatic garage doors.
You count the number of people in your life who could build a house or repair a fence. The number is shrinking. You try to picture kids climbing trees unsupervised, and you can’t. Even the days of trick-or-treating at a stranger’s house are numbered. The trees haven’t fallen yet, but when they do, you’ll feel the sting.
You stare at the brick house one last time and fervently hope that someday, when you’re 90, you’ll live in your home, too, and all of the neighbors will be impressed that you can still swing an ax.
Jennifer Bardsley is author of the books “Genesis Girl” and “Damaged Goods.”
Find her online on Instagram @the_ya_gal, on Twitter @jennbardsley or on Facebook as The YA Gal.