In 40 years of marriage, my husband and I and our children – all now grown – have lived in five states and about twice that many houses, beginning with a mobile home in Kansas. On three occasions we lived in subdivisions, most recently on the east side of Louisville. That was never our ‘cup of tea.’
For me, a small pile of branches was the last straw. One of our neighbors actually registered a formal complaint about it, accusing us of negligence in the maintenance of our yard, which was a breach of homeowners’ association’s rules. I don’t remember why that pile of sticks in our front yard stayed there for more than a week – probably our son’s responsibility to bag them - but the message of the neighborhood was clear, the pile was an unacceptable eyesore. Being non-confrontational by nature, I disposed of them, and muttered about our need to escape such regulations.
My husband chuckled about the episode and said he thought rules of this kind, as long as they were voluntary and not government-enforced, probably didn’t do any real harm. But when the next formal complaint filed against us demanded that he keep his rusty little old Toyota pickup, which he’d kept in the back yard behind a fence, inside our garage and out of sight at all times, he did not laugh. In fact, he immediately picked up the intensity of his search for a farm home in Henry County.
Those who’ve never experienced a subdivision may not be aware of the constraints of such living. Depending on the locale, there are rules governing an amazing number of issues. In many neighborhoods, lawns have to be kept mown to a specific height dictated in inches. The placement and composition of fences are carefully regulated, and cars or trucks may not be parked on the street or off the driveway pavement. After my father passed away, my mother lived in a development that actually outlawed wind chimes and restricted the choice of colors she could paint her house.
My husband and I, both raised on farms, were never comfortable with rules of this kind, so we approached our move to Henry County like two kids let out of school for the summer. We moved in the fall and at once I planted daffodil bulbs haphazardly among the cherry trees in a little grove beside the house. I spent the winter planning my projects. In the spring, I hauled a heavy old feed bunk up to the kitchen door, positioning it along the cement slab so I could see it when I washed the dishes. I filled it with top soil and planted petunias in every color of the rainbow. I eagerly watched the little plants grow and bloom, spilling delicate flowers over the side of the old feed-bunk planter.
My garden is another project also begun that first spring. Every April I approach it with new enthusiasm, pulling out the dead brush and churning the earth with a hoe. I sow portulacas and zinnias among the perennials and always add a few new plants to the mix. For awhile — through the spring and early summer — I keep the weeds at bay and eagerly follow the progress. But my energy and interest wane every July with the precision of the tides. By late August, I have lost track of the low-growing flowers, and the zinnias and cosmos must compete with weeds for sunlight. Only the tall hollyhocks stoically watch over the disarray around them. This spring, in anticipation of my mid-summer slump, I planted tomatoes in my garden, thinking to offset the inevitable jumble of weeds and flowers with a crop that could more or less fend for itself.
While I’m admittedly a haphazard gardener, my yard is fulfilling just the same. I could never garden in this way in a development without feeling out of place. My feed-bunk planter would never have been tolerated in my old neighborhood, and the careless, undisciplined way in which I tend my comfortable garden would have raised eyebrows aplenty. This is precisely why I love living in Henry County, a place where individuality is taken for granted and diversity is respected. I love the mix of mobile homes and stationary dwellings. I love that some folks’ lawns and gardens are carefully tended, while others stand as evidence that their owners have other priorities.
Suburban living made me uneasy, constantly mindful of trivialities that I now have the luxury of ignoring. Often, I lapse in my yard work and spend a lazy afternoon reading with no fear of criticism. In Henry County, we have the freedom of self-expression. I can garden at my own pace. More than that, I can live at my own pace. My mind can dawdle over possibilities. Say, that old tub might make a nice planter.
Submitted by Jan Wilcke