The little house next door

There is a house next door to me that used to belong to a lady who raised her whole family (3 kids) there. It’s a tiny bungalow, smaller than mine.

When I moved into my house 20 years ago, she was still there, living with an adult son and daughter-in-law who were raising two toddlers in the basement apartment. The toddlers were the grandchildren of the daughter-in-law (it’s a sordid tale as to why they came to live with her). I often wondered how they managed in that tiny house.

The owner of the house next door was an avid gardener. She had the most colourful, beautiful garden that she tended to lovingly. It was her hobby.

A few years ago she decided that she was getting too old to look after all the work of a house and garden. She fixed up what needed to be fixed, and sold the house to a family.

The family arrived and moved in. They were immigrants from China although they mentioned they had lived on a farm for a while before moving into the city. The woman didn’t speak English at all, but her husband was a tour bus driver who spoke enough English to get by. There were two boys: the younger boy, in grade 10 or 11 at the time, spoke fluent English, not that he ever spoke to us (but he attended the local high school). The older boy was in his early 20s and working somewhere in the suburbs. He spoke some English, but not fluently. I know this because he helped us with a fence rebuild at one time (at his father’s insistence).

We rarely saw any of them. Every once in a while we would bump into the man and have a short chat. But we never saw his wife, until one day he invited us over for green tea. It was maybe 5 pm and the lady was dressed in a pink housecoat and didn’t want to be seen by anyone. I felt bad for her and hoped she would at least say hi, but she didn’t want to. Instead, her husband told her in Chinese to make us green tea, which consisted of loose leaves in a drinking glass, which he handed to us.

We sipped it in his front living room.

I had been in the house a couple of times before, when the previous owner still lived there. At the time, it was furnished in a traditional older lady’s style, attractive and very clean, but with old-fashioned furniture, curtains, that sort of thing. When she sold it, it was move-in condition – there was no need to do anything to it if you didn’t want to modernize it.

The new Chinese owners however did some work to it. Proudly, the man showed us around after we sipped our leaf-y tea.

First thing we noticed is he put up walls wherever he could. The house already had multiple rooms which were tiny, given how small the house itself was, and he separated some of them with another wall.

In the basement, where the previous owner’s son and daughter-in-law lived with the two children, he put up more walls.

Frankly, it was kind of claustrophobic for me. But, whatever, right? Maybe he had plans to rent it or something…

Shortly after that visit, which occurred about two years ago, he contacted us again and came over with his older son. The son was there to translate if need be (he ended up not having to as we kept our language simple. Both our own parents were immigrants whose first language was not English so this isn’t unusual for us. Besides, when I moved to Canada as an 11 year old child, I knew how to say yes and no – that was the extent of my English language know-how).

They marveled at how open and modern our house is (which from the outside looks similar as his house, although our house is slightly larger and wider).

The reason he came over was because he was taking his family back to China. Something about having a legal obligation to look after his parents who were aging and alone.

Later, the story changed. His 24 year old son needed a wife and they thought a traditional wife from their home town was the most appropriate course of action.

They left us with an envelop of bills, and a key, and asked my son to mow the lawn in the front and take in the mail.

We did. And we are still doing that (although no longer mowing the lawn).

The unfortunate thing about the lawn is, it’s overgrown by rose bushes and other flowering foliage. The weeds are, in some cases, so tall they surpass my 5’5 frame.

It’s quite heartbreaking, to see a once gorgeous flower garden deteriorate into such a state.

Last summer, just as I was driving down the street back to my house, I saw a white SUV drive up and down the road. It kept passing our house, and I wondered if it was someone we knew.

I also thought maybe someone was looking at the house next door, noticing its state and how part of the foundation and roof are starting to fall apart and rot.

I parked in my driveway and saw the SUV pull up on the sidewalk beside my house. It was the former owner.

She was devastated by what happened to her house.

We told her a little bit about what had happened, and she kept shaking her head.

Here’s the thing – the area we live in is highly desired by many people who work in the city. It’s nestled near a large park, connected to other parks by roadways and bike trails, is along the shores of Lake Ontario, has access to all the major highway arteries within minutes, is minutes away by foot to small business shopping, minutes by car to big box shopping, and on a public transit line (streetcar and train).

My little bungalow with its renovation would likely list for a cool million if we were to list it today, and probably sell over asking if it follows the trend of other people we know who have sold and walked away with pockets full of cash.

But the little house next door remains empty. And, the garden is suffocating.

So, can you really blame me for going over there and snipping off some flowers and placing them in a vase in my house?

I call them contraband flowers. πŸ™‚

Hello rainy, cold, miserable Canadian Monday. It’s spring break in lockdown here…which is why I have all the time in the world to type out stories like this.

You’re welcome. ❀

29 thoughts on “The little house next door

  1. What an interesting and mysterious tale. If only all of the walls of your neighbor’s house could talk! 😏 We know about the previous neighbor that respected no one’s audio bubble, and now these neighbors that have practically disappeared. Will you tell us more about your other neighbors? Sounds like a blog series on your neighbors may be in the works. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  2. If you are still taking in the mail? what are you doing with it? do you have a forwarding address or is it just junk mail and flyers etc? It was an interesting but very peculiar story.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. If there are holes that need digging in your neighbours garden, I am sure Tucker will oblige. When we moved into our previous house it had a large overgrown garden that took 18 months to tame. Monstrous shrubs which should have been 3-4 feet tall were 15-20 foot and had an equal spread. We went through tools like there was no tomorrow and managed to break some which had lifetime guarantees! In any case, it looked colourful when it was tended and required constant attention throughout the seasons.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think it’s natural to go back to your former home and admire (or disapprove of) the changes that have been made. I remember being annoyed when the new owners of my first house in WA state tore up the fir tree I had planted in the front yard. It almost felt like a personal affront, ha! They also replaced the awful green carpeting with something more modest. That, at least, was a smart move on their part.


  5. I confess that, in my youth, I would occasionally collect and enjoy contraband flowers. If caught, I would ignore the homeowner and searchingly call out, “Here, kitty, kitty, kitty.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Not wanting to buy into racial stereotypes or anything but I can’t imagine a single Chinese family from Australia letting a piece of real estate that they could profit from go to wrack and ruin like that!

    Liked by 1 person

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