How a deck so full of memories has become a place of peace


It’s been awhile since I’ve really wanted to sit on my back deck. But on a recent Sunday morning, I found myself sitting there in my PJs and robe, drinking a hot beverage and listening to the sounds of birds and dogs and feeling the gentle breezes of a new day softly brushing against my face.

The deck is shaded in the morning, but I could see the sun gently nudging God’s world into wakefulness. The industry of flies and bees and birds, the scurrying of a squirrel in the leaves of the nearby apple tree, and the smell of dew-covered grass all added to my sense of well-being.

I felt total contentment in my little world.

I've made a comfortable little corner for myself on the deck.

I’ve made a comfortable little corner for myself on the deck by replacing the old patio swing with a gliding chair unit. This photo was taken late afternoon.

It had been difficult for me to sit on the deck until recently. My husband Jim, who died of pancreatic cancer in 2010, and I had spent many, many hours on that deck, discussing anything and everything, or just sitting in companionable silence.

It was a place for us to reconnect and to enjoy being outdoors together without having to work on anything. It also was a place for us to connect with neighbors, and to observe the neighborhood to make sure nothing was amiss in our microcosm.

As we enjoyed a drink and a snack, we would talk about projects in progress, and the ones we’d tackle next. We evaluated what we already had done and dreamed up entirely new schemes that would never see fruition. We had very active and elaborate imaginations for two people who were on a blue-collar budget.

Dream big, right?

The deck was a place for a little nap in the shaded patio swing with one of the dogs; or to have a cool drink on a warm evening.

Our neighbors would walk across the lawn between our houses and talk at the deck’s railings. Many evenings, I would make dinner to the background buzz of Jim talking with one or two of our friends.

We spent hours out on the deck after dark — after the mosquitoes would give up their blood-feast — and star-gazed. Jim would distinguish stars from planets for me and we would watch for the International Space Station to suddenly appear into view.

Jim would print out NASA’s viewing schedule for the space station every week. I still have a looseleaf notebook where he kept some of those printouts to try to track the space station’s specific patterns from month to month.

Jim also enjoyed his telescope, but he used binoculars to see the space station, explaining that the station was moving too fast to focus it in the telescope lens.

I loved to watch him tell me about the planets and the stars and the space station, and see his boyish animation as he warmed to one of his favorite subjects. I can still hear his voice, clear and authoritative, as he would tell me the latest space station news, what planets would be where in relationship to the moon and for how long, and what we might expect to see in the sky soon.

I came to depend on Jim for that sort of specific information. Now when I tilt my gaze toward God’s celestial display, I wish I had actually learned what Jim was trying to teach me.

I now have to research to find out what planets should be visible where, although my stepdaughter’s other half uses the phone app “Google Sky” that helps. You simply turn on the app, point it at the stars and it will identify what you are seeing.

It just lacks that personal touch Jim was able to give the experience.

The deck also was a place of refuge for us. I remember one night when we were awakened by the sickening smell of oil fumes. It was early fall, so the nights were becoming nippy.

We were in the process of replacing our heating oil tank and had removed the remaining oil from the old tank into 5-gallon buckets we had put in the garage attached to the house in anticipation of dumping the oil into the new tank once installed the next day.

Night came and we closed the garage doors without giving it a thought.

The fumes from the oil permeated our old farmhouse and eventually reached our upstairs bedroom, where they gathered and stayed. The smell woke us up and, after determining what had happened, we decided we could not sleep in the house until we aired it out.

Jim and I dressed in warm clothes, collected the dogs and chose to sit in the patio swing on the deck while we aired out the house. At 3 a.m., the house still reeked of oil, so we dug out a couple of warm blankets and settled in on the deck, watching our breath hang in the cool night air and trying to catch a few ZZZZZZZs.

It looked like we were going to succeed with our nap, when it began to rain, and then pour.

Jim and I really did have a collective warped sense of humor, and the ridiculousness of our situation totally struck us between the eyes and we began to laugh. Two educated fools huddled and shivering together under blankets on the back deck at 3 a.m. in the pouring rain because we were too stupid to leave the garage door open to vent fumes in the first place.

We laughed until tears rolled down our cheeks.

We often spoke of that night as one of our most cherished memories. And even though I have changed the furniture and added my grill to the deck, I still have the sense of that patio swing where Jim and I spent hours together.

Our Brittany dogs Sassy (left) and Bullet watch birds and squirrels. The patio swing had seen better days at this point.

Our Brittany dogs Sassy (left) and Bullet watch birds and squirrels from the deck. The patio swing had seen better days at this point.

Our time in each other’s company gave the deck its own personality. And I think that was the whole problem with the deck after Jim died: it lacked personality. It became a foreign place. Totally unrecognizable to me. Shrouded in deafening silence.

But as I have been making peace with my memories and my life as it is now without Jim, I have managed to reclaim the deck as my own space. I take comfort in the many memories its strong posts support — posts that Jim secured in the ground himself — and in the place of peace and rest it is now for me.

I don’t know when my attitude about my deck changed, but I do know that my recent Sunday morning there felt as natural as could be, and I look forward to more of them.

 

JULIE HARRIS

About JULIE HARRIS

As a longtime employee of Bangor Daily News, I have served many roles over the years, but I now have a dream job as Community Editor. I live in Hermon with my four Brittany dogs: Sassy, Bullet, Thistle and Quincy, who keep me busy in various dog sports. I was widowed at age 51 when my husband, Jim, died of pancreatic cancer.