The backyard is the outdoor equivalent of a closet. There are some people, to whom I do not belong, who have beautifully organized closets. They are not afraid of what may fall out of said closets when the doors are opened. I am in a different category, one that I choose to believe most people belong to as well. My house can look immaculate, but open my closet doors at your own risk.
Same goes with yards: the front yard is the house. A pristine front yard gives a wonderful first impression. Walk to the backyard, and you may find something completely different.
Our first two homes, prior to moving to our little Mississippi town, were a third-floor walk-up apartment and a zero-lot-line rental house in downtown Memphis. One day, the first spring we lived here, my husband came home with twenty cinder-blocks in the trunk of his car. He had “watched a YouTube video” (I’ve come to dread that phrase) and wanted to make his own smoker. We had room to do this, he declared, because we had a backyard. And that’s what backyards are for– smokers and other mechanisms to cook meat.
Never mind that this smoker was as ugly as sin and looked like a pet crematorium. Oh, and the internal temperature never rose above 140 degrees, rendering it useless, unless you were cooking sushi. So it sat.
A patio was poured the following summer. I ordered an outdoor seating set, half of which arrived defective. I quickly learned one of the perks of living in a small town: most delivery companies would rather you keep defective items than take the time to drive over and pick them up. I had a stroke of bad luck (or good, depending on how you look at it) when I received a second shipment of defective furniture. At the end of the ordeal, I wound up with a large, full set of patio furniture, half of which is jerry-rigged with super-glue and wire, and can only be used if the chairs are leaned up against a wall; otherwise, the backs will fall off.
Shading my collection of slightly dangerous patio furniture is the centerpiece of our backyard: a 30-foot crepe myrtle tree. My aunt, who is a landscape architect, pointed it out to me when I showed her pictures of the house during the renovations. To harm this tree, which had been growing for nearly 75 years, would send me straight to horticulture hades, she said. Treat it with the respect it deserves.
It truly is a beautiful tree, and it’s an honor to have something that has lived, no, flourished, for so long. But that’s as far as my affections go. Want to know what happens the majority of the year with a huge crepe myrtle tree? It sheds. Leaves in the fall and flowers in the spring. My spring evenings are marred by purple blossoms falling in my drink. My patio is stained from the leaves. I would spend an hour sweeping them off the patio, only to have it rain and a new batch of crepe myrtle dandruff fall the next morning. It also sheds bark from the trunk, like a giant snake. Is this normal? I don’t know. Given it also ruins my flower beds around the base of the tree, I think it is. This tree likes to remind me that she was there first, and everything else is just in her way.
On particularly windy days, the blossoms and leaves of this grand, annoying lady blow into the open door of the metal shed on our driveway. It stands in the place of our soon-to-be covered carport, which stores all of our outdoor tools and toys. The door to the shed doesn’t shut, because it was damaged during a bad storm on November 28th, 2016. I know this exact date is because I was in second-trimester early labor with our middle child, within hours of being rushed to UMMC. I stood in our sunroom, timing contractions, watching the storm, when a gust picked up the building and flipped it upside down. It remained upside-down for four months; eventually, while we were with our daughter in the NICU, some dear friends came over and flipped it right-side up for us. To prevent it from flipping again, they superglued it to the concrete. I have no idea if that’s standard practice, but that shed hasn’t moved since, and may rival the crepe myrtle in stubbornness when it needs to be moved.
Once the carport is built (this has become a running joke in our family because it’ll never happen), I’ll have the outdoor equivalent to a closet door, and the neighbors won’t have to look at the menagerie of life that is our backyard. I can pretend that we’re responsible adults who plant flowers and shrubs and don’t build bizarre things (if you see my husband at Home Depot muttering about building a duck house, please send him home).
However, the second thing I’ve learned since moving to a small town, is that it doesn’t matter how high your fence is or how well you lock your back gate: everyone knows what’s in your backyard. They also probably know how messy your closets are, too. And despite the messiness, they’re still your friends. It’s what makes friendships deep and authentic here. Because we all have those closets, and probably have those crepe myrtles, too, and God knows we need good friends.