A spectacle in yellow

When I was a teenager, my parents purchased a summer cottage in Madison, CT. It had beadboard walls inside and weathered shingles on the exterior. Two large porches, one open downstairs, and one screened in upstairs, convinced my parents to buy the house on the spot (they had been looking, so had a good sense of what they wanted). The house had no heat or indoor shower. You accessed the beach and Long Island Sound down a dirt road and a grassy path.

Over many years streams of people came through that house. A large kitchen, though poorly arranged for preparing big meals, managed to feed everyone. Mornings, a heaping platter of doughnuts from the Madison Bakery (long gone now) would be set out on the long table covered with a floral-print waxed tablecloth. Later in the day it would be laden with lunch, and then dinner, while friends sat around the table telling stories.

The living room area circled around an open staircase (a perfect design for running kids). With four bedrooms upstairs (none very big), my sister and I had our own rooms for once; the bathroom had a clawfoot tub, rarely used. To reach the upstairs porch you went through one of the bedrooms. An attic had two additional rooms, with sinks, but in the summer it got unbearably hot, so we used it only for storage (and once for overflow guests).

All manner of games were enjoyed in the large yard with its lush grass—including a “pitch and putt” tournament (with betting) that my father’s work friends played in what became an annual Turkey Day golfing event each fall. My mother’s perennial gardens expanded year after year, with special flowers she chose in travels around New England with my father. A vegetable garden produced Jack-in-the-Beanstalk sized produce: zucchini that went from normal (edible) to baseball bats overnight, huge tomatoes and eggplant, and basil that grew into bushes.

My father didn’t like the cold, but my mother did, and so we started spending weekends in the house by April (we slept in thermal underwear, sweaters, socks, hats, and under piles of blankets). My sister and I would do our homework in the car to stay warmer. My father worked at the dining room table, typing on his computer dressed in a winter coat, hat and gloves.

I loved the lazy summers, but my favorite season, despite the cooler temperatures, was spring. Each year my mother planted daffodils, so by the time we finally had to sell the house, there must have been thousands of flowers. Even better was the forsythia that surrounded a good part of the house. In keeping with my mother’s rather laissez-faire view on landscaping, these bushes never got trimmed. They became a huge thicket that had two great benefits. A practical one was that they surrounded the outdoor shower, offering relative privacy…unless someone actually walked up to the back door. (Since my mother, sister and I preferred evening showers, we had the added advantage of darkness.)

The second benefit simply was the glory of color. For a couple of weeks each spring, you drove down our stone road and came suddenly upon a glowing mass of bright yellow. Wide and tall, the bushes intertwined and spread. Flying overhead I imagine you’d see greens, browns, and dots of color. And then at our house, an immense block of happy yellow.

Cherisse and I bought our own house in March, and that first spring we planted several forsythia bushes. They grow fairly quickly, and now, several years later, they offer a glorious burst of color. It isn’t the same—the Madison forsythia had something magical about it—but they are beautiful, and a welcome sight after a snowy winter. Soon green leaves will replace the flowers, but by then other plants and trees will bloom in great numbers and color will abound. For now, we enjoy the spectacle.


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