After renting apartments and a townhouse for four years, it seemed Mel and I would never become homeowners.

Our list of requirements included a safe neighborhood where the girls could walk to school with playmates, a house with a large kitchen and living room, three bedrooms, bath, a dry basement, and well-groomed yard.

No fixer-upper, in other words.

At last, our real estate agent drove us to a house on Cummings Street in Berkley-a white bungalow with a front porch, perfect for Becky to pose on her first day of kindergarten.

Oh, and a beautiful tree with huge leaves dominated half the front yard.

“A catalpa tree,” Mary Jo said.

At last, we found a house that met our expectations plus a bonus bedroom, yet the exception of a galley-like kitchen. However, the dining room accommodated a table for twelve. Room to grow our family.

The spacious backyard charmed me with its huge elm, graced with a swing. Mel didn’t mind that an above ground swimming pool occupied the space meant for a garage. A shed kept the family’s lawnmower.

Although green and maintained, the landscaping lacked blooming color: a blank canvas for me to grow Jackson Perkins roses and morning glories to climb the fences we shared with neighbors.

Finally, I could grow tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, and asparagus.

I called my mother when we returned home. “We found our house!”

“Where? Can you grow a garden in the backyard?”

Now, reared on homegrown produce and meat, my mother wasn’t thinking flowers.

“Plenty,” I said.

“Make sure you don’t mow the lawn. If you do, Mel will expect it, and you’ll have enough on your hands.”

Mind, my mother seldom offered advice to her five daughters, so I stood with the phone’s receiver to my ear, astonished.

From the first push mower for our Cummings lawn in 1975 to the John Deere riding mower Mel purchased last fall, he relished the roaring engine that eventually caused hearing loss.

Dear Reader, when a neighbor removed the snowblade from Mel’s John Deere and installed the 44-inch mower deck, he looked to me. “She’s all yours.”


Indeed, I took my belated husband’s place on the mower’s seat, put my hands on the wheel, and followed my neighbor’s instructions.

It felt right as I drove the mower downhill to Mel’s shed. I understood why I never needed to apply my mother’s advice.

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