The relentlessly hot summer had begun and we had endless time to scout through the house and the grounds outside. It was so big upstairs that Daisy and I each got our own room. The bathroom that we shared was bigger than the bedroom we had together occupied in the old place. I was 10 and Daisy was 8 and now our imaginations had a wonderland in which to pretend, play, explore and hide.
There were two things we both loved from the outset – the attic and the gardens. The attic was huge, with vaulted ceilings, three skylights and a great window with four little ones above it facing out the front. It was “T” shaped, running both east and west, north and south. We immediately wanted to move up there but were told it might be needed later for something Dad was doing, so we had to content ourselves with exploring its temporary environs.
It was Daisy who unwittingly discovered the secret passageway. Tripping over my slipper, my little sister fell headlong into the wall, only to feel it give way and open into a wide hallway that joined two rooms in the attic. The door had been discreetly framed and we kept its presence to ourselves. We decided to call that special discovery “Wonderland.”
The gardens, especially in the summer, felt more like visiting a giant atrium than a back yard. There were giant oak and walnut trees, bushes along the perimeter, and wild flowers splayed out indiscriminately throughout. An old stone path veered off in different directions, leaving plenty of places to hide. Our favourite thing about the garden was the little brook that bubbled along the rear of the property – deep enough to swish our feet in and moving enough that it made the most delightful and joyful sound in our new world.
Three weeks after we moved in, Mrs. Dawson rang the front door bell. In her hands she carried two small pizzas, and containers of chicken and salad and soup. When Dad emerged from the back of the house, he looked embarrassed at the sawdust covering his old khaki pants and denim shirt. Though he suggested moving towards the dining room, our visitor asked if we might sit out in the rounded porch upstairs overlooking the side garden.
“You’ve been busy by the looks of you,” Mrs. Dawson noted with a smile.
“Hasn’t stopped,” said Mom as she swept some sawdust entwined in Dad’s wavy hair.
I think the older lady was curious, since the grand house had been pristine and even renovated in spots when she left. A new hardwood floor with wide planks of darkened ash had been installed throughout the entire main floor. The bathrooms had been updated and most of the wall areas had been treated to fresh coats of paint. She must have wondered what it was that Dad needed to change.
“I’m turning the place into a restaurant downstairs, while we stay in the upper floors,” Dad said while placing his empty salad plate near the edge of the table. It had taken a few weeks, but Dad had succeeded in getting the property rezoned to the more applicable commercial-residential status.
“So I’ve heard,” Mrs. Dawson replied. “What kind of food will it serve? Chinese? Mexican? Mediterranean? Gluten free?” she concluded with a smile.
He placed his fork down on the table and looked at her directly. “Going to take some of the best of each – the kind of dishes most people really prefer, instead of the fancier variety that cater only to those with refined palates. I sometimes think that most people head to fast food places because they aren’t into all the fancy dishes that seem to be all the rage at the moment.”
“You mean sushi, crepes, and the like?” she queried.
“Exactly. They’re wonderful foods, but most people don’t regularly frequent such establishments, yet they do have a favourite kind of Chinese food or variety of taco or fish. That’s what we’re going to serve.”
Dad’s words had filled Mrs. Dawson with a kind of curiosity, I could tell. But both Daisy and I had reached our supply of politeness and, with a nod from Mom, picked up our dishes, headed down to the kitchen, and moved out the side door into the garden.
“I like her,” Sally said, washing her face in the brook’s shaded green water.
“That’s because she brought you pizza,” I noted.
“No,” she replied almost defiantly. “She seems to want to help Mom and Dad and I think she still loves this place.”
It’s true, I thought. But it had become too much for her to manage. Yet through Dad’s vision of it, she still seemed to want to be part of it.
Later, Dad had walked her out to the sidewalk and thanked her for her kindness. Then they got into a talk I could swear lasted an hour. We helped Mom to clean up.
“What’s taking them so long?” Daisy whined.
“Honey, I think your father and Mrs. Dawson are going to work together on making the restaurant a real success for us all,” Mom replied.
And she had been right. Dad came back in, grabbed some water, and said,” Margaret is going to invest some of her funds into the launching of the restaurant, for things like a ceramic oven and hardy wooden tables and chairs.”
“It’s kind of like she’ll still be living here,” I said, which caused my parents to nod in agreement.
“Interesting strategy,” noted Mom.
“It’s likely that her investment funds are actually what you paid her for the house.”
“The circle of life,” he said with a grin before heading into the back of the house.
Next post – The Experiment Begins