The Hydrangea Tree

This tree sits in the middle of my backyard.

This tree sits in the middle of my backyard.

This morning is cool and clear for August. As I sit on the deck of my new home, my line of vision is caught on the old hydrangea tree with its graceful draping branches exploding with blossoms. My neighbor has lived here all his life and he’s also a landscaper. He estimates that the tree might be 75 years old. He’s said that he hasn’t ever seen one so big.

Yesterday, after the painter left, after more furniture had been delivered, after the cleaning person finished her work, when there was only the carpenter and me remaining in the house, the doorbell rang. I was upstairs at the time, chagrined to realize that most of my comfy summer clothes were apparently downstairs in the laundry room. A minute and then another ticked by as I pawed through my dresser drawer. The carpenter called up to me.

“Laura, there’s someone here with a connection to the house.”

I tugged on a shirt and found my way down the stairs. I had no idea what to expect. Someone with a claim on the house? Someone looking for the previous owner?

A lovely young couple stood politely on my porch waiting. They introduced themselves and the woman explained that her grandmother had grown up in the house. The couple lived in Florida and were visiting the area on vacation and they wondered if they could take pictures of the outside of the house to share with the grandmother, who was the only remaining relative who’d lived there.

Of course I invited them in. I’d made a similar trip as this young woman after my grandmother’s sister died. I’d gone to my grandmother’s house and walked all around it, seeking the connection I’d had to my grandmother, pulling my memories of her from the wraparound porch, the gardens and the old cherry tree. Some of you will remember that my grandmother’s house featured in a book I wrote a couple of years ago.

The young woman entered the house, took one look the stairway and pulled in a deep breath. She explained that she has a photo of her grandmother on her wedding day tossing her bouquet down those steps. I pointed out the original aspects – as much as I knew them: the huge old windows, the carved baseboard moldings, the fireplaces and their intricate mantels. She sighed over all of it. She pointed to the hardwood floors in the dining room and remarked that they must be new. I said they were. She told me that there used to be a button on the floor to call the servant.

They went outside to take photos and just as they were pulling out of the driveway, I ran out to give her my email address.

“Would you share that photo of your grandmother with me?” I asked. “The one on the stairwell?”

She smiled and said she would. I don’t know if I’ll hear from her or see that photo of my house from the 1950’s, but that’s all right. I look at the blooming hydrangea tree, which was a young plant when that grandmother was a girl growing up in this house, and I feel an invisible thread connecting me to that grandmother across time and space. This house was a home long before that grandmother lived her and it might be a home long after I’m gone. For now, I’m entrusted to make it as happy a home for my family as I’m able. And I plan to do just that.

13 responses to “The Hydrangea Tree

  1. Oh that’s lovely, Laura! A beautiful thread to the past. So glad that couple stopped by. I hope they’ll send the photo.

    I think about my grandmother’s house in Michigan. She moved to a different house than the one I visited when I was a kid.

    Here in the Midwest, because of our soil, many of our trees have a harder time than those you have in the Northeast. Here’s that post that explains why: https://lifeonthecutoff.wordpress.com/2015/07/24/of-placement-and-purpose/

    • Thank you for reading and also for that link. So interesting to realize the impact of region on what grows. It makes me think about rich the soil must be in northern California to allow redwoods to grow so tall and old!

  2. Beautiful! It’s amazing how stories like this bring us not only to others but also to ourselves. I hope she sends you the picture, too.

  3. That wast daughter Kelly who stopped by and I’m so glad that she did. This was my “Nanny & Grandads” house that I can remember so vividly and walk myself from room to room in my mind. The last time I saw my Nanny she was waving goodbye to us on the porch as we backed out the drive, the gravel crunching under the tires. When my mother was quite young the covered porch went across the whole front of the house and around the side where the French doors go out to stone steps from the library and the living room. They used to have a ping pong table out there. At the bottom of the stairs inside there was a large wooden newl post ball that was riddled with small tack holes from years of leaving notes there for family members. Ione (Ralli) Allen and Henry Butler Allen moved in when they were married and had four daughters. Judy, Patsy, Peggy (my mom) and Betsy. Unless they have been painted over in the basement you will find footprints all on the floors and walls from a party that Aunt Betsy and my Mom had

    • Tina,
      This message brought a tear to my eye. Thank you so much for sharing your memories of this wonderful house. We knew it was special when we saw it and it means so much more knowing what a happy place it was for your mother, her sisters and your grandparents. I LOVE knowing about the original porch. I’d imagined that once upon a time there must have been a patio off of the french doors. My hope is to create something like that again because right now, they don’t lead to anything. I will look for those footprints! Please be in touch if you are ever in town.

  4. Hi, Betsy’s daughter here! I was just looking at photos of ‘the Allen girls’ this weekend. The pics are in NJ but I have a few with me I could share. We were all so excited when Kelly told us about visiting the house. My family remained in Chestnut Hill till 1975 so my siblings and I spent a lot of time in that house. It is a house that was well loved. If you send me your email I can forward whet few photos I have on my iPad.

    • Ann,
      Your family was in the house for a long time! How wonderful. I’d love to see photos of “the Allen girls.” You can reach me at laurasibson(at)gmail(dot)com It was wonderful for me to meet Kelly. I don’t know if she mentioned that we’d just moved in a few weeks earlier. We’d lived on the Main Line for years and years and we were ready for a change. We are loving Chestnut Hill!

  5. First of all, happy new home! Secondly, what a lovely post. I have also had people (my house was built in 1882) stop by and want to visit. It’s funny…in my dreams, I’m always at my childhood home so I expect one day, I’ll be knocking on a door.

  6. Thank you, Naomi! It’s great to hear from you. And I love knowing that people are visiting your old house in Baltimore too! Especially because I have such fond memories of my grandmother’s old house on Roland Ave 🙂

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