Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Helen's Legacy. And a Demolition Crew.

We've lived in our condo for about 5 years. It was an old home that was gutted, and with a large addition in the back, turned into 2 large condos. We each have 2 levels of renovated space that doesn't feel like the typical Boston housing stock. In other words, it's updated and not grimy. We have a front and back yard. We have the Arboretum across the street and wetlands behind us. We thought we'd hit the jackpot. We were thrilled to find the place, and put down an offer on the spot. It was accepted about 12 hours later. 

We found ourselves to be neighbors with families that had lived in the area for generations. On one side of the house was Helen, the octogenarian matriarch of a family that included 9 children and countless grandchildren. She lived in a large house with 2 of her adult sons. The house was typical Boston housing stock, slightly grimy, with multiple family projects added to the house and yard over the decades. Helen was still wiry, spry and strong-willed, a force to be reckoned with. She had been a nurse, in addition to raising 9 kids. There was no doubt about who was in control next door.

But the projects that they had added to the house were a bit interesting. Decades before, Helen wanted a pool for her children. They couldn't afford to pay someone to put one in for them. So they did it themselves. They raised the level of their yard, from a steeply sloped hill to a large level expanse adequate for a pool with a diving board and a slide. They built a large... well... I'm not sure what to call the structure. It has a roof and screened in sides. It overhangs the city's wetlands behind it. I'm pretty sure it's not legal. It's also ugly. But it provided shade and a place to store pool toys. 

When we first moved in, Helen was still living in the house, and loved to see the family gathered for swimming and grilling. There were plenty of patio tables, chairs, and a large awning coming off the back of the house. But Helen was starting to become forgetful, and over the next few years we witnessed her rapid decline. Helen was moved into a nursing home, and the pool parties stopped. 

The property was "adorned" by quite a collection of stuff. Ok, so it was like having the Beverly Hillbillies next door. The yard was built up with construction fill. They built the wall out of old sidewalk remnants, and filled in with the contents of dump trucks that had been rumbling by. There were plenty of teen-aged sons at home, so they were put to work creating the back yard. They were good at repurposing things. Helen didn't like to throw stuff away. This is useful when you're raising 9 children. This is not attractive when your property overlooks the collection. As Helen started to lose her memory, a few of her daughters would secretly come in and throw stuff out. The stuff that made it to the curb was amazing. Not attractive, but amazing. 

We planted ivy to try to cover the wall. We planted a tall yew hedge to separate our kitchen windows from their "woodpile". We prayed with every windstorm that the large building in the back would miraculously get blown down. We've been praying a long time.

We were shocked this morning when a dumpster container arrived next door. A demolition crew arrived with it. They went back to the structure. Then they started taking it down. Quite rapidly, actually. The girls were amazed, and watched, entranced, from the back deck. It really was amazing to see them disassemble the monstrosity. 

Alice, the 7th of the 9 children, came over to tell us what was going on. We knew that Helen had died a year or 2 ago. Chris, one of the sons, had started doing some work on the property, and it was slowly (very slowly) starting to lose some of its Beverly Hillbillies appearance. We approved. I took out lemonade in the summer to show our appreciation. Alice explained this morning that everyone in the family who could afford a house already had one, and this one was going to be sold. (I didn't ask about the 2 random grown sons and a grandson and his girlfriend who lived there...) They would spend the summer getting the house cleaned out and in sellable condition. They would open the pool one last season to get the family together on the weekends. 

This is amazing news. I know that Helen would be spitting mad. As Alice explained, the "wetlands" behind the house used to be a city dump. The additions to the yard were "improvements", especially in Helen's eyes. She didn't see that the structure was illegal and constructed out of random building remnants. She only saw that, despite working 50-60 hours a week and raising 9 children, they had managed to build a yard, a pool, and a cabana on a shoestring. It was a testament to their hard work and ingenuity. Alice told me that under the floor of the structure, they found an old porcelain bath tub. With a dead raccoon in it. Somehow, it seems appropriate. 

The structure, as the demo begins...

Men at work.

Our view of the work.

HeyMama supervising.

HeyMama and MeToo supervising.

The roof is coming off.

The roof is gone.

The frame is gone.

It's all gone.

Our view of their patio from our deck.

Our view of their patio from our patio. Thank you yew bushes.

Our view of the structure from our patio. Thank you demo crew.

Our attempts to cover the sidewalk wall. 

The giant expanse of wall that the ivy can't seem to conquer. That's a lot of sidewalk chunks!

Our view of the wall from our patio.

The woodpile. With random tires and crap. This is actually a cleaned-up version...

Our new garden and new grass that BestestHusband is working on. We prefer to look at this.  

Alice watched the work through the back windows. She said she liked watching the view of the trees reappear as the structure was dismantled. "It's like it's come full circle", she said. Alice salvaged a few plants from a planter that was part of the structure, and gave them to us: "Autumn Joy Sedum". I want to keep them. Alice said that Helen loved them, and they were one of the few plants that she could actually grow. I have few but fond memories of the spunky old lady next door. She fretted that I would slip on the ice when I walked to work, pregnant with MeToo. Her ability to remember new things was quickly leaving her, so the memory of losing one of her pregnancies was strong whenever she saw me. But even in her frailness, she exuded energy. And joy. I'm be honored to have her "Autumn Joy". I promise to think of her when they bloom.

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