Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The day the gravel came

First, I must say I've been blogged down recently.  I went to Pawleys Island, S.C., for a week.  The weather was great, and I didn't work much.  I meant to, but just didn't.

Then, yesterday I was exhausted and surrounded by suntan lotion-scented beach towels that needed washing, not to mention everything else I took over there.

But, today it's back to business.  For some reason, I started thinking about a day I'd rather forget.  It was the day the pea gravel arrived at my house.

The background:  When we built this house in 1980 at the very highest mortgage rates ever, I advertised in the paper for cobblestones to make a front parking court.  I ended up buying 4,000 Belgian blocks - the ones that look like a big loaf of bread and weigh a ton each.

My husband and my daddy, using a dump truck from Daddy's business,  fetched them from a huge pile somewhere down near Marietta Street.  The stones had come from the site where the CNN complex is now.  I assume they had originally been ballast for ships coming from Europe.  A lot of that area of downtown Atlanta had cobblestone streets at one time.  I think there are some that are still paved over.

Anyway, I got the cobblestones, and soon afterwards, I made a huge mistake.  Our builder sent over someone who needed the money for a heart operation for his baby.  I was skeptical, but he had the sweet, very sick baby with him.  We agreed on a price.  I am very sure the father had never installed a cobblestone, or any stone for that matter, in his life.

So, I got what I paid for.  Lines of cobblestones so curvy they'd make you dizzy.  Also, he ordered river sand and did not set them in concrete (which might have been a blessing, after all).  The first time it rained, I had a lake in my front parking lot.  In fact, you needed waders to get from a car to the front door.  I had the young man come back and install some grates and drain pipe, none of which worked.  If we had a party or guests, I just prayed it didn't rain.  Also, when my mother-in-law first visited, she had to grab my husband's arm to maintain her balance, so uneven (up and down) were the cobblestones.

I can't tell you how much I grieved over this mistake.  I won't go into the years of rain followed by silt that would cover half the parking court.  Every week, when he could have been doing something else to enhance the landscape, my husband shoveled silt and wheelbarreled loads of it to the compost pile.  We weren't the kind to fix things.  We just managed what we had.

After my husband passed away, things got worse.  The cobblestones sank even more, and I couldn't keep up with cleaning them.  There were lakes when it rained, always followed by a fresh sea of mud.

Something had to be done.  I contacted a landscape designer, and she gave me a price to re-do the front of the house.  I should have known when she came back with a drawing that put a lot of foundation plants where I had none that she didn't understand the aesthetic of my stucco and limestone house.  And, the price to remove the cobblestones and use some of them to outline a pea gravel parking lot was astronomical.  I had paid 40 cents apiece for the Belgian block.  She wanted $12 to handle each stone.

So, I became the contractor.  I hired a Bobcat driver I knew who said he could dig the cobblestones.  I then got a driver from my daddy's business to say he would come get the cobblestones and haul them to the farm.

The first breakdown came when the Bobcat driver quit halfway through.  He suggested I find a landscaper to come buy the rest of the cobblestones and remove them.  Then, the driver and I had a disagreement over his hauling price, so he said he couldn't do another load.

It was a disaster and remained so for what seemed like several weeks.  Somehow, I found another Bobcat man, and he had a friend with a dump truck.  They finished up the cobblestones, brought in crusher run and packed it down, and put a thin layer of pea gravel on top.

I've been happy with the results.  I thought I would miss the cobblestones, but I love the gravel.  It brightens the look of my house.

The above photograph was not taken here.  It's the entrance courtyard to an architect's office.  But the idea is the same.  Gravel, boxwoods (I only have two flanking my front door - they had to be raised and re-planted when this all took place) and vines (I have Boston ivy going up the wings of the house).  It's a simple concept, but I like the look.

I shudder when I think of standing there that day, half the cobblestones gone and a hideous mud pit in front of my house.  I can't believe it ever got it fixed.  There's still more work to do.  I'd like to bring some cobblestones back to outline the gravel, but it might take a few more years before I have the gumption to fool with anything like this again.

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