Murphy’s greenhouse: A tale of tousled memory
by D.E. Bentley –
Simple moments often stand out in our memories like scattered leaves on a windswept day.
Our time there was short, punctuated by a brisk November and the tall, unkempt grass of the following fall. Our cabin was wedged between a shadowing hill to the south and another to the north. That winter, we stapled cardboard to the inside walls to slow the wind’s entry, rolled logs down the back hill to generate heat in the small wood stove and bathed in the claw foot bath tub – supplied by cold and gloriously hot garden hoses.
I learned a few mandolin chords during long nights bracing against the chill, and the changes to come. It was the early 1980’s, a time when our only mode of transportation was our feet and factors seemingly beyond our control compelled a settled, contemplative existence. With state forest stretching for miles around us, and the sweet smells of spring wafting through the valley, we wandered beneath the canopies exploding with green life.
As winter’s wrath receded, we ventured across the road to the only other structure, save for a distant cell tower, visible through the small six-lite windows. Noticeably larger than our cabin (really little more than a shack – which was well suited to our “landlord” its regular inhabitant a single man in his fifties), seemed somehow more alone due to its positioning closer to the high hill’s encroaching shadows. The structure announced its existence as a business with a small sign made of carefully stenciled letters joined by a pleasant spray of hand-painted flowers.
Murphy’s Greenhouse consisted of a series of wooden ribs that supported plastic sheathing. The plastic was translucent rather than clear – clouded by layers of years and the dust that kicked up off the road. Like the obscured exterior of the greenhouse, Murphy, the man the structure was named for, seemed mysteriously obscured by time, although warm and welcoming. The entrance to the greenhouse was a recycled wooden door accentuated by squares of magenta, ochre and blue glass panes surrounding a clear glass center meticulously cleaned to offer a glimpse inside. Stepping over a garden hose that wound its way down a slope and under the edge of the plastic, we stepped through the doorway and into a community of lush blooms prospering from the concentrated rays of light that had eked their way in though the filtering sheath. Potted plants hung suspended from hooks everywhere and delicate seedlings greened long rows of tables that lined the pathway. We chose a fuchsia plant, attracted by the deep reds of its flowers and stems nestled within the green warmth of its leaves.
Long walks into the nearest town and exploring the vast wilderness that surrounded us left little time for planning futures. Our cabin paradise hiatus ended with the arrival of the return of Bob from Florida, where he had watched Bald Eagle nestlings hatch and take flight as we, sheltered between his humbled walls back home marveled at night owl voices and ran with soaring Red Tails.
Our pursuits had left little time for daily rituals, and his lawn – we thought he liked it that way – had grown into a dense tangled mop in need of a trim. The fuchsia, moved to a hook outside, had withered with our inattentiveness, its bright reds faded to dull brittle browns. With backpacks of memories and a soulful mandolin we walked away.
We visited once, several years later, when the grass in the front lawn, neatly mowed, was a luscious spring green. The cabin had been expanded and was now inhabited by Bob and his partner. Its windows had been replaced and insulation added. The area remained the same, quiet and wildness all around. There was little traffic with the exception of periodic customers selecting baskets of flowers from Murphy’s.
“You should stop over,” Bob the sign painter said quietly that spring day shortly before you and I also said our goodbyes. There was something in his tone said this may be the last chance and yet, in our shared complacency, we instead walked away. Murphy died shortly after.
Once, while we still lived in that small cabin, out there across from Murphy’s Greenhouse, when Murphy was still there, I had a dream. In the dream the cabin was beneath a towering highway with bumper-to-bumper cars twisting and turning around a cloverleaf assemblage of asphalt and steel – the trees gone. Murphy’s Greenhouse, in the dream that rang out so vivid that it remains in my memory today as so much from the time fades to indistinguishable grey, was a McDonalds. It all seemed so crazy then to think of so severe a change over time.
This all came back years later, when I drove down that road, past the sign painter’s house that I once lived in, past the broken down greenhouse structure and back toward town. Is that dream of mine so crazy, I wondered – life is, after all, about change, and saying goodbye.