Mister Rogers’ neighborhood mesmerized me when I was a child. I dreamed of living there, of having everything in my life in perfect order, of feeling completely safe and secure. Just watching Mister Rogers zipping up his blue sweater and methodically pulling on and tying his sneakers gave me a sense of calm. And he wasn’t the only one on tv who somehow managed to whisk away my chronic nervousness, blanketing me in warmth. The Andy Griffith Show and Mayberry R. F. D. did, as well. I imagined trick or treating down the impeccable Mayberry streets, shaded by a canopy of oak trees. I saw myself ringing endless doorbells with an Aunt Bee type answering the door and extending a tray of homemade treats. And sometimes I pictured myself being greeted by June Cleaver after a hard day at school, a large chocolate cake waiting on the counter.
As age tends to tarnish our childhood dreams, it gets more difficult to believe that places like Mayberry exist. Was someone so wicked that they created those shows to make our lives feel inferior, imperfect, flawed? To make untethered happiness unattainable? Or maybe it’s more reasonable to conclude that they were designed to show us how life could be if we did the right things along the way…if we stayed on track, led respectable lives, had clean souls.
I was on a run the other day doing my regular route from Summit through the town of Delafield. I ran along the Bark River up Main Street, then through Fireman’s Park and around and down through town. I’ve run this route hundreds of times, but this time something struck me. And I don’t mean like a passing thought. It was the profound realization that I was there….living in my childhood dream…my own Mayberry R.F.D with its old-school barber shops, knitting stores, and family owned restaurants. How had I not seen it? Was I too distracted? Tainted? Unappreciative?
Whatever it was, my eyes were now wide open and focused in a way that they hadn’t been before. Everything felt infinitely more special…more colorful..more magical. I could almost smell the chocolate cake on the Cleaver’s counter.
After I had the revelation, I felt like I was floating along the running path, and a I approached a house I’d passed dozens of times, one that some might say is a bit heavy on the arts & crafts and tchotchkes, everything was magnified. It’s an unassuming farm-style home with a postage-stamp size yard, though the owner manages to pack plenty into the limited space. The large front porch is decorated with wicker chairs and braided rugs, and the porch lights are always on regardless of the time of day. Little woodland creature hold signs with messages, and throughout the wild gardens that border the sidewalk are endless surprises. There are metal bird sculptures and painted rocks and even a small antique stove. But more than all the adornments is the welcome feeling it emits. I’ve seen neighbors enjoying coffee on the porch and wished that I could be a part of their conversation, and smelled bacon seeping through the screens. It’s like a real, life-size magical Secret Garden House.
I disappeared in my thoughts as I ran home that day and thought about the little secret garden I had for many years. It was set up on an antique tin roof tile and filled with endless miniature bobbles that I found along the way Everything from flying bumble bees to soaring bluebirds, tiny angels, to itty bitty watering cans and terra cotta pots. I found dwarfed plants and scattered them throughout the menagerie of knickknacks, moving them around ever so often. It was like rearranging a closet when the seasons change. Then one day, I simply lost interest in it and dismantled it, storing it away in a plastic box.
The next day, as I headed out on a run, I felt a swell of excitement as I clutched the little angel in my hand. And as I got closer, a bit of nervousness came over me. I stopped in front of the house, keeping an eye on a man who was doing some trimming in the yard. I’d never seen him before and wasn’t sure what he’d think about my visit. When his back was turned, I set the little angel down on top of one of the many solar lights. I wanted to squeal as I picked up my pace and continued on my run thinking about it all…imagining what the owner would think when she found it.
That evening, my husband and I were having dinner at a restaurant just catty corner from the Secret Garden House. I told him about the angel and how I wanted to check on it after dinner. It had been on my mind all day.
As I nonchalantly strolled up to the house, my husband many paces behind, I zeroed in on the solar light. It was gone…the angel was not where I’d left it. What did this mean? What could it mean? Had it been found and taken inside, tossed away, or had someone stolen it? Or was it possible that the owner was incensed that someone would dare to put something in her yard…to mess with her things? I figured that the only way to find out was to do it again. And again. And again. To continue the secret.
Since that day, I’ve left many little gifts including a miniature watering can, metal garden chair, red cardinal, tiny bird bath. And with the exception of the angel, the gifts have remained where I left them. And as I pass each day to check on them, I smile. I have now have my own secret, and it lives within the Secret Garden House.
Note: I will update the Secret Secret Garden story as things unfold. Hopefully, it will include a hot cup of coffee on the front porch.