“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard.” – Dorothy, in The Wizard of Oz.
Technically, my backyard is not solely mine. I share it with several other townhouse-renting families –and one unspeakably boorish group of 20something guys who tout their cigar-smoking, beer-guzzling, tawdry-storytelling-ways, loudly, on their patio, at all hours — whose back door, like mine, opens up to a large oval quad broken up by the occasional tree and makeshift badminton net.
After 20 years of being a homeowner with a private backyard, it initially felt strange and college-like to be sharing a lawn with a bunch of other people.
But I have grown to love the communal quad. Franny has developed a posse of tween and early-teen girls who scooter back and forth on the pathway to each other’s homes, and through the passway to other quads where yet more tweens can be found.
During these summer months, it was not uncommon for me to arrive home from work, and look out the floor-to-ceiling windows to spot Franny playing tetherball or gathered in a gaggle of girls murmuring things like, “Of course I didn’t tell my mom!,” which I sort of overheard when my ear accidentally fell against the window screen. When Franny goes to her dad’s house, she leaves a note on the back door: Dear Cassie, Lulu, Grace, Savannah, Rachel and Sophie: I’ll be back on Monday!
And Luca, who until now had never had a close friend, has acquired one. Paolo, whose family came here two years ago from Italy, lives three doors down. He and Luca met each other hanging out on the quad and became instant friends. They are both skinny, spiffily-dressed, and high-octane. They are two caged cats in apartments, bursting out the back doors to run back and forth to each other’s homes, or videotape the unsuspecting security card on an iPad, or bike up to the outdoor mall.
There’s something about the shared yard that creates an “it takes a village ambience.” Last week, Franny’s friend Cassie showed up at our back door. Her mother had locked her keys in the car. Cassie ate dinner with us and watched Glee on DVD with Franny until her mother got home. For a single working mother who arrives home at 6:30 p.m., it is invaluable knowing that not only could Franny get instant help in an emergency, but she also has built-in playmates to keep her from feeling alone.
Sharing a backyard has taught me that some of the things we feel we need to be happy — in my case, attachment to an upscale station in life — are illusions. Owning a home with a private yard is great if you can swing it, but it’s not going to manufacture happiness. What it can manufacture is a constant migraine knowing you are solely responsible for the roof if it caves in and wondering how you would ever pay for it.
I feel 100 pounds lighter with that homeowning albatross off my shoulders. There are no Joneses here to keep up with, but plenty of Joneses to help you out in a pinch. I don’t have to look any further than my own backyard.
Today, I’m thankful for my backyard.