09 Aug Our Victorian Back Yard, Part II

Jill’s dream for our back yard was that I would pave the entire thing — 65 feet by 20 feet — in vintage brick for a super Victorian look. Mind you, this was not my dream. Laying brick, on my hands and knees, for days on end! No, ma’am.The task was daunting in a dozen ways: we’d have to find hard-to-find, old brick, 3 tons, to be exact, then transport it, and then store it while I worked on the yard. You can’t store that stuff on the sidewalk. More daunting for me was the issue of leveling the yard so that the bricks would lie flat and drain in the right direction. Most daunting was that Jill wanted this brick laid in a herring bone pattern, the most difficult design. And then there was the issue of cost: bricks aren’t cheap, running at $1 – $1.50 a piece. We’d need about 3,000. I told Jill that maybe I’d get around to this in 3 or 5 years.

Funny thing about the way we live, Jill and I never know when happenstance will change my mind or hers or both. We happend to be at an architectural salvage yard recenlty when we came upon piles of old brick for the rock-bottom price of 25 cents a piece. “We’ve got to get this brick,” I said, without really thinking. Jill beamed agreeably. Several trips later, we had about 500 bricks stacked in our back yard, enough to do the middle section. I said I’d lay these down, we’d see how they looked, and then, in a few years, I’d finish the job. That’s what I said.

My contractor friend, Nicholas, AKA “The Essential Handyman,” offered to help me. Nicholas is a much neater, much more exacting builder than I am. He patiently watched me work, then made suggestions, and then, by the end of the day, he was laying most of the bricks and I was cleaning and trimming them. As I watched him work, it occurred to me that 1) life is short, 2) I hate laying brick, and 3) Nicholas is much better at it than I — and 4) he does things like this for a living. So I gave him the job. “Do the whole yard!” I said.

More than a few people have mentioned that they liked the pea gravel that covered our back yard. “It’s kind of zen,” one visitor remarked. Truth is, the pea gravel was a terrible nuisance because those little stones got into everything, especially the treads of our shoes, and then we’d track them all over our house, scratching the wood floors, etc.  I went to Micronesia a few years ago — halfway around the world — and guess what I brought with me? Pea gravel in the treads of my shoes.. So I must admit that the thought of getting rid of the pea gravel  once and for all acted as a tremendous encouragement to put the brick in.

It took Nicholas about a week to finish. But first we had to take up the 500 bricks we had already laid because you can’t lay just any old bricks with any other old bricks. They have to be the SAME size; otherwise, they won’t line up right. Nicholas and I found a guy who deals only in vintage brick. Our batch is 100 years old and they are pavers, not building bricks. The difference is that pavers are much harder — made to withstand horse hooves and iron wheels. We bought 3,000 of them. The seller delivered them on a big flatbed and used a forklift to fill our garage.

So Jill got her dream in short order. And I can’t believe how beautiful the yard looks now — a totally different feel than before. It’s more “formal,” more dressed up, but also warmer. The brick gives us a courtyard feel. And they look like they’ve been there since the house was built, which is a testament to Nicholas’s skill. Nobody does better work than the Essential Hanyman. Every time I walk to the garage, I glance down at the brick and shake my head in wonder. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that I’d ever get to this job. And now it’s done.