Greenhouse Lessons This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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   It never occurred to me that other children didn't live the way I did. Not until second grade (when my school friends began to frequent my home) did I realize that most people didn't live on twenty acres with three barns and four greenhouses. Of course, I knew that other houses had smaller front yards, but it never sank in that there wasn't a vast expanse of acreage behind those houses like there was behind mine.

Neither did other children learn the things I did. They learned how to cross the street carefully, not to pet stray dogs, and not to talk to strangers -- the basic lessons of suburban life. And I learned the lessons of the country. I learned that no matter how cold it was outside, you could always count on getting overheated in the greenhouse. I learned to march over a tangle of four or five hoses as easily as walking on hard-packed earth. I learned how to scale a wall that was as high as I was to get into the sandbox. And I learned the welcoming rhythm of the second-hand cement mixer which we employed to churn Pro-Mix during the spring and summer growing seasons.

I spent those summer days in the 90 degree heat of a plastic-covered hothouse, breathing in the heady smell of damp earth and growing things, of dirt floors and dry wood. I learned the secrets of the sandbox, not on the playground filled with other children, but in the greenhouse, surrounded by shovels and my toy tractors. For a long time after I outgrew them, I found tiny green metal replicas of historical tractors with the John Deere symbol on the back, buried in the box of sand in the corner of the first greenhouse.

If the greenhouses were my preschool, the first greenhouse was my second home. The other two (aptly called second and third) were inhabited by long rows of growing plants, but the first was a place of living things. There were my grandmother's beloved geraniums and pansies, the tangle of clover that we allowed to run rampant under one of the tables, and seedlings to be exclaimed over and lavished with tenderness until they were ready to transplant. Although not everyone can understand, this was the place with the history and the personality. This was a place to spend hours listening to the steady tig-chug of the furnace that my father and grandfather had built.

I can still find the photograph of my father and grandfather, made at least eight years before my birth, standing proudly before the newly-completed furnace: their triumph. And the one made about twelve years later, in which three generations of Smiths - me, my father, and Grampa, posed for the Hudson News in front of our creation. The furnace even had its own little room, the only part of the plastic-covered building made entirely of wood.

I have other memories of the greenhouse. I remember the low cubbyhole in the main work table that was just at my eye level. It was shadowy and mysterious, and filled with homemade wooden tools. It was my pride, because only I was short enough to see inside and know what the interior of that black pocket looked like. I can remember the knee-high step that was the threshold to this second home, a step which, for too long, I had to scale like a wall. Eventually, I could stretch to my utmost, just barely reach the top with my foot, and step (however haphazardly) over this monstrosity of a doorstep. A long time passed before it was anything less than a monumental effort to climb that massive wall.

Once a year, we would strip a greenhouse of its plastic covering, leaving the bare skeleton of a frame, and cover it with fresh plastic. This required thousands of staples, and an equal number of tiny cardboard squares to keep the staples from tearing the plastic. How many other children, I wonder now, spent their mornings in preschool and their afternoons helping parents and grandparents cut cardboard squares?

Once every three years, a greenhouse is taken down, frame and all, and rebuilt from scratch. Always, in my memory, the result has greatly resembled the original, but with fresh yellow wood. Last year, though, they tore down the first greenhouse, furnace room and all. I came home from school one day in early spring, and found the place of so many memories gone. Not completely, of course; there remained a row of tables piled high with debris where we had once worked. It was no more than a week before it was rebuilt, but it will never be the same. The sandbox, the threshold, the work table with the cubbyhole are missing. It is still a tropical island from the cold New England spring, still something no one else has, but it is not the place of my memories. There is a furnace, but no furnace room; a table, but not inhabited throughout the winter by my grandmother's geraniums. It is a greenhouse, but not the greenhouse where I was educated throughout my childhood years in the art of becoming who I have become. n


This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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theatregirl This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Oct. 18, 2012 at 8:16 pm
love it! it was was simple but well stated. keep writting you have talent
 
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