One day while wandering through the magical world of Pinterest, I saw it: the best retaining wall in the world. I had never seen anything like it. It was constructed of cinder blocks, with some of the blocks turned now and then—jutting out of the wall—for use as planters. The unique idea was us. If we made this wall in our yard, no one would own one quite like it or like it enough to want one. But Husband and I had never been accused of fitting in, and I had long ago lost the taste for it anyway.
“Check this out.” I showed him images of the cinder block wall. “Isn’t it cool?”
He nodded. “I could do that.”
We proposed the idea to Dallas and Glenda, our neighbors on each side. After all, it would be their wall too. We explained that they wouldn’t have to worry: we would build it but still keep intact the existing chain link fences that separated us. Both neighbors gave their approval, and Dallas even jumped in with both feet, inviting us to go ahead and tear out the chain link between his yard and ours.
The next summer, we ordered the cinder blocks—600 of them—and they were delivered on pallets by semi-truck to the cement slab by our garage. I eyed the stacks of fifty-pound blocks, and hopelessness crept in. Each block would need to be lifted and then transferred—a few at a time—by wheelbarrow as far as sixty feet into our yard.
Husband began the painstaking work of building the wall. He dug an eight-inch trench by hand around our back yard, and after that, shoveled in a layer of sand. Then he laid the first course of blocks, pounding them down with a rubber mallet and checking his work every few minutes with a level. The pace was grueling, the task arduous. As I watched him, I remembered our beginnings. His slow, meticulous work habits had both initially attracted me to him and later shown me my humanity with all of its glaring flaws. Impatience again thrummed inside of me.
After weeks of work, Husband completed the wall—sixty feet long and four feet high—on one side of the yard. At the end, however, he discovered it had gotten out of whack somewhere along the way, and the corner pieces wouldn’t fit properly. He dismantled it all—block by block—and started over. I breathed in slowly through my nose and out through my mouth, forcing my thoughts away from the ordeal in the yard. In the grand scheme of things, did it matter that our project would now span months instead of weeks?
For half the summer, the pallets of cinder blocks obstructed our driveway basketball court, and the neighborhood kids grew antsy.
“I can help you move these into the yard.” Keyondra pointed at the stacks of blocks.
“Sure.” Husband handed her a pair of work gloves, and she dug into the task. Peanut joined in too until the two basketball players had cleared enough space by the garage to once again shoot hoops.
Before Husband was done, the winter snows blustered in and covered the wall. And so we waited. The second summer, he finished the construction on all sides of the yard, each block having been secured with concrete adhesive. Then, he drove rebar down through the blocks’ holes every six feet and reinforced it with cement. Last of all, he topped off the wall with concrete capstones.
We then hired steel artist Andrew MacGuffie—whose work adorned the Northrup King Building’s landscaping—to install curved steel borders for raised gardens next to our wall. But the snow flew in once more and drifted over our work. And so we waited again. By the third summer, we hauled in dirt and finally planted our gardens, the flowers softening the steel and concrete with their explosive blooms and beauty.
I stood back with my soil-covered hands—unable to peel the smile from my face—and surveyed the sight. Blossoms spilled from the wall’s block planters, and green vines trailed over the edges of the steel borders. Near me, Husband puttered around in the dirt. Three summers of blistering work was his gift to me—simply because I had one day admired some pictures on Pinterest.
I contemplated the man behind the project. Husband lived life like he built that wall: level and grounded with a sturdy foundation, unyielding to the elements, and able to bear a crushing load without crumbling.
“Come here,” I said. He straightened up from potting a celosia and strode toward me. I looped my arm around his waist as we gazed at our land together. “Thank you. It’s perfect.”
I recalled his soil-stained hours and sweat-soaked shirts. Countless loads of blocks, sand, dirt, and trips to Home Depot. Mistakes that cost him weeks. The painful mission of a solid foundation.
He tossed me a half-smile, his eyes soft at the edges. “Hey, no problem.”
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*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.