The Secret Garden

You began building the Secret Garden sometime in 2007 or 2008, I think. What was most incredible about this creation is that almost all of the materials that went into building a gazebo came almost entirely from things you found all over the yard—discards from other people and other times, many things buried under grass and leaves and other debris. When it came to building a lattice-type roof, we spent about $200 in wood at the Home Depot and you created the top of the creation. We named it the Secret Garden early on—although there was nothing, really, secret about it. It was sheltered by two olive trees in the front yard.

You created a path to the entrance of the Secret Garden out of slabs of wood—from a Jacaranda tree chopped down by the man across the street, who didn’t like the lavender blossoms that cluttered his front yard once a year. He was happy to get rid of the wood. You were happy to get it and cut it into round slabs leading from the grill to the entrance to the gazebo.

You loved spending mornings in the Secret Garden, reading the newspaper and sipping your coffee. We spent many evenings in the garden with friends, sipping wine. Despite a busy street only a few hundred feet away, somehow the noise of traffic faded away into nothingness. Would that be an oxymoron, calling it the Secret Garden when it was anything but?

When, in September of 2008, we learned we would have to move—and I bought a house in Quartz Hill, around the corner from youngest son, Kelly, and daughter in law, Keara, and grandkids Savannah and Ethan—when most of the furnishings of the house had been moved to a storage unit we gained access to our new home—you finally dismantled the Secret Garden. The wood was piled up in a spot in the new back yard where it remained until 2010.

Then, motivated by an inner self—I know not what—you began to rebuild the Secret Garden. Just as you had built it once and dismantled it once, you began to rebuild. This is the most amazing aspect to the Secret Garden—that you, with no experience in house building, driven by some inner force—put down the bricks (originally salvaged from the 1994 earthquake at which time we collected all the whole bricks that could be found around Northridge, Mission Hills, and San Fernando) – now placed down where the new Garden was to go, but—you explained—you were making it a full foot larger all around, so that there is a dirt border into which plants or flowers would go. I photographed the re-building of the Secret Garden. It went up into what was the most logical and sensible spot on our property.

I have often wondered what drove you to get the Secret Garden rebuilt—did you know your time on earth was limited? I don’t know the answer; I only know that at the end of 2010 you knew you needed medical attention; you were diagnosed and treated until your passing in September of 2011.

The Secret Garden has been sadly neglected until now. When I go there, I talk to you, asking you how you knew—IF you knew—what we never talked about. Maybe that is what the Secret Garden was all about, from the very beginning; it was the place where secrets could be shared and talked about.

Your absence is felt, keenly, in my life. I talk to myself a great deal, having no one but two dogs and a cat to talk to. I rarely cook, having no one to share a meal with. Occasionally, I will make a pot of soup or chili or stew, knowing I will have enough to freeze some bricks of the dinner to share with friends, Mary Jaynne & Steve or my sister and her family.

I baked cookies, knowing I can give most of them away to the mail carrier or friends at bowling. My kids, around the corner, are living their own lives and I rarely intrude. My granddaughter, who virtually lived with us throughout high school, has been in college in Sacramento, since 2013. Next to you, I miss her the most. How can I explain to anyone that I, who have never felt lonely throughout my life – now feel the absence of two of the most important people in my life? I stand inside the
Secret Garden and listen to the wind blowing through the trees above me.

This is what it feels like, to be alone. –Sandra Lee Smith


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