Woodbine 7-5109

Empty Nest

There are a few numbers that have been indelibly burned in memory. My social security number (to the amazement of my daughter) and my childhood telephone number, Woodbine 7-5109. Where I was raised, the phone numbers had the names of trees, shrubs and flowers. Ours was the woodbine, a shrubby vine in the honeysuckle family. Perfect for my mother, a city girl and inveterate gardener.  Growing up, I watched her fearlessly prune climbing roses, snip boughs from fragrant cherry trees, plant a mountain of snow and tend her favorite plant, the cascading candytuft. And oh yes, we had honeysuckle growing wild around our patio. Our house, with the red wall phone hung in our kitchen, would ultimately shape how I view any home where I might choose to live.

That split-level house, on a street with many others just like it, nestled in my heart and took root there. I carried it to Manhattan, to my first tiny apartment, (where I had a small garden on a terrace.) After I got married, that split level settled in with me and my new husband to a loft in Brooklyn, then to a first house and finally the place I called home: this house where we raised our daughter and where I still live after 22 years. Our farmhouse holds in its walls all my dreams, my oversized dinner table, my laughing fits, my daughters christening gown and tiny cap  (stitched by me), my rivers of tears, my paintings, all my shoes and yes, my gardens. I am my mother’s daughter. My gardens are wild and unruly. Roses, hyacinths, daisies, phlox, hydrangea, and coreopsis … anything that strikes my fancy on the first warm days of June finds a home in one of the beds.

When my husband passed away unexpectedly four years ago, I took solace in the soil. He loved flowers too—each year for Mother’s Day, he bought me a flowering tree. A rare lemon colored magnolia is my favorite.  I decided to make a garden for him, a “Tommy” garden, full of his favorite blooms. It goes from last frost of March to first in December and it’s full of birds and butterflies. It’s the garden closest to the house, (and my heart)- right off the kitchen. Now with my child at college and just me here, my house is truly empty. Just the gardens and me. When the vernal equinox occurs, my gardens awaken and I do too. My Carolina wrens return every year, their birdsong like a flute found in the woods. I’ve got two houses in my heart. My split-level and my farmhouse. And when I am alone in this rambling place, sometimes I contemplate a new house, a new place, a new life. But something holds me back. Like my purplish blue clematis, I have taken root here. Right now it is too hard to leave. When I listen to my heart, it says, “not yet”…just one more season. So I stay, with my wrens and my buttery magnolia. Wherever I go, I’ll have to have a patch of garden soil. Just to make it a home.

About Grown and Flown

Parenting from the Empty Nest
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12 Responses to Woodbine 7-5109

  1. It’s funny how flowers can trigger memories from the past. If I see purple iris I think of those that grew in the front of my grandmother’s house. Hyacinths because I’d talk my mother into buying them at the grocery store every spring, but I never understood why they never continued to bloom and we never got around to planting the dried bulbs in the fall. Peonies make me think of the shrubs growing in my backyard growing up covered in ants and roses from the backyard of the first home we bought when we got married that I had no luck growing in subsequent homes.

    • Lisa, you have written about some of my favorite flowers – peony season is around the corner and yes, the ants seem to like them as much as we do>

  2. momshieb says:

    What a really beautiful and moving post! I’m glad that you are staying with your gardens and your memories. Like you, I look at each plant and remember who gave it to me, or where I bought it, or who dug in the soil beside me on the day it was planted.
    You are a lovely writer. More, please!

  3. Woodbine 7-5109 is so quaint and so much easier to remember than an 8 didgit number. Sometimes I go by houses here that have names and try to imagine the history behind them.

  4. My family home number began with “Walnut-” I wonder how many exchanges were named after plants? I agree that houses with names make us think of they have had interesting histories.

  5. Merv says:

    Of all of the senses, smell is most strongly attached to memory. I still find it crazy how I can step into any room and the smell will immediately take me back to the past.

    If you ever move, you can always take your memories with you!

  6. What a lovely, tender well written post. I haven’t had the opportunity to garden (I grew up in NYC not to much space) but love flowers and can understand how flowers and plants can be inextricably tied to the people we love.
    A wonderful read.

  7. I have a patch of ajuga in my garden that came from the house I grew up in. There was a thick, rich, purple carpet of it right outside of the front door there. When my parents moved I dug up a patch and planted it in their new house. When my father died and my mother moved, I brought it to my house. Then to my next house.

    Few people I’ve ever meet understood my tie to this little patch of purple ground cover. I think now I’ve met a kindred.


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