Memories of Home: My Grandparents’ Backyard

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When I was younger I named my grandparent’s house ‘The Pool House’ because in the backyard sat a crystal clear chlorine oasis, where I spent my summers floating in comfort. To me, like others, quarantine has offered ample time to self-reflect on many things. Especially those things that often are taken for granted, such as a backyard pool. To many, this space is simply seen as entertainment space, and to others, extra square footage. But over two weeks of helping my grandparents renovate their backyard, I grew to learn more about my sacred summer space.

It was one Thanksgiving dinner when my grandparent’s announced their retirement; they had 23 years in the workforce. With the news still hanging in the air, they hit us with another surprise. Renovations to their backyard were about to start.

Bright and early the next morning, I found my grandmother, perched with her coffee, flipping through a furniture magazine (because, she said, the website ‘wasn’t working’). New patio furniture has been on her ever-evolving wishlist for years. With the gift of retirement, she could now replace the once black, now rusted, odd-numbered-chair set that I grew up with.

“Your mother took her graduation photos on that furniture out there, you know,” she told me. She smiled fondly at the memory, pointing at the framed photographic evidence on the kitchen wall. Forever 18 in the photo was my mother dressed in a navy blue gown. The patio furniture looked pristine in its original condition. Mother stared the camera down, her face not showing even a twinge of graduation happiness. “She was upset we wouldn’t let her get the shorter dress,” Grandma said, laughing to herself. I smiled too, imagining my mother, young as me, waving her small arms in an expression of her frustration, something she still does to this day.

“What color are you thinking for the furniture, Grandma?” I always thought that the furniture had been an easy choice. The all-black metal set didn’t create a decorating fuss; it simply sat there, blending in, watching as my mother pouted for the camera. “Something that shows growth,” my grandmother replied.

The next day, as Mother and I cleaned and readied the furniture for its next life at the homeless shelter, she asked me, “Did your aunt ever tell you about the time she held a pool party here?” I nodded ‘no,’ so she dived into the tale of how my aunt guilt-tripped
my grandparents into letting her have a pool party. My aunt had told them that she would have ‘just a few friends over.’ Then, when multiple people started to show up, she smiled and explained wickedly, “You can’t just turn them away.”

“She was the coolest girl in school for the next two weeks,” Mother said. “All until another girl in her grade got her driver’s license and a car. Then it was all about her giving trips to McDonald’s on their lunch break.”

I couldn’t imagine the furniture being sturdy enough to hold the party crowd, or my grandparents being calm enough to go along with such a plan. Yet both happened, in the same backyard.

“There’s a photo somewhere of her on these chairs,” Mom said. “She even broke one.”

So that’s why there was an odd number!

A few weeks later, the new furniture arrived. Out of the delivery truck bounced bright colors and patterns that swirled and danced, ready to take their places.

Webster’s says that a home is ‘one’s place of residence.’ In helping renovate the backyard, I came to understand that home is also what you do in that space – an impromptu pool party or a pop up photography studio where a young girl frowns at the length of her dress.

In changing the patio furniture, retiling the pool, and landscaping the grass, I heard just as many stories from that backyard that had shaped my family as I heard about memories from inside the home’s four walls. These experiences shaped my grandparents’ house into a home. I had named The Pool House when I was barely old enough to comprehend my own name, let alone that the house I was visiting was someone’s home, not just a place for me to spend lazy summer days in the pool.

Now, the my little nephew also calls his great- grandparents’ home ‘The Pool House.’ Just as I did at his age, he happily bounces through its halls on his way to the backyard, eager to cannonball into the pool’s new shallow end. The old backyard and pool have a fresh face, but it’s the same one that saw my grandparents marry, my mother graduate, and my aunt become the coolest girl in school. All that’s left is the future, and new memories that we’ll make back there.

The virus that shall not be named is causing the loss of everything from loved ones to jobs to homes. It’s given us time to reconsider what home means. For me, it’s backyard with a pool, rusted furniture, and so many family memories.