Our house is of the old and crumbling variety, a Victorianesque terrace built with poor quality post-war cement mix and hodgepodged together with random blocks of timber and silicone glue. It is a hefty double brick and bluestone construction, that will withstand almost any force except itself and time.
It's bulk is a blessing, capturing sunlight and heat during the gloomy winter months and barricading out the main bite of the Australian summer scorchers. And while it is large in space and girth, it is poky in proportions, creating the feeling that you are in an open plan rabbit warren where you can't hide but can be all alone, all the same time.
It is a house of conundrums and errors and really-should-fixes. The kitchen is an old new kitchen job installed in an old house in an attempt to make it new, and is built from the kind of white laminate that won't really stay white for very long, even with a bucket of sugar soap and a sledgehammer of determination. The bench top leans in to the wall at an acute angle, causing jars to roll and plates to slide.
Windows rattle in the wind, the mortar falls out from between the bricks and the polycarbonate pergola bangs about in perpetual disagreement with the framework. The taps leak, the plumbing backs up, the front door only closes if you slam it and sometimes, if the weather is bad, it even rains in the hallway.
Despite and because of it's faults, this ramshackle establishment makes you feel unconditionally welcome. The front gate squeaks hello and goodbye like joyous punctuation marks at the beginning and end of each day. Decades of scuff marks tell stories on the wide polished timber floor boards and include you in their history. The cheap purple tap fittings attached to the colonial style bath remind you that this is a home, not just a house with light fittings and matching accessories.
The most welcoming room of the house, though, is the backyard. Living on the city verge, we are free from the restraint of the lifeless brick walled courtyard and instead blessed with a poorly maintained but well-loved backyard. We have enough space to spread out a substantial shed, a vegie patch, a compost pile, a dilapidated lattice trellis, a serious barbecue (this is Australia, after all, folks), a sun-scarred outdoor dining setting, a large dog kennel for an equally large dog, a functional clothesline, several thirsty pot plants and a chunk of suitably unruly lawn.
The heart of this outdoor room is the lemon tree. Old, gnarly and knotted, it stands in the middle of the backyard with branches crossed and boughs aloft. A monster among lemon trees, it shows above the fence line and across the train tracks and torments the inner-outer-inner city citrus population. It provides shade and shelter and a delicious scent, and kindly blocks the neighbours prying eyes from peeking through our lounge room window.
But there are only so many things you can do with lemons, and you can only do those things so often. When we have exceeded our personal lemon quota, we try to offload them. We offer lemons to our visitors, and we offer lemons to the fellow dog-walkers in the park. We take lemons to social occasions, and we encourage our friends to experiment with lemon-based recipes wherever possible. (Yes, we've become that couple, boring our infinitely cooler friends with stories about our lemons and our baby, and our baby and our lemons.)
We hope the neighbours reach over the fence when we aren't looking and steal more than they need. We throw lemons for the dog, we stockpile lemon butter and lemon cake recipes, and we sadly deposit some unlucky lemons into the green waste bin each fortnight. I'm contemplating putting a big box of lemons on the pavement out the front of our house with a 'Please Take Me' sign and just letting them scatter across the neighbourhood, one lonely lemon at a time.
The lemon tree is like a salve for the soul, a permanent dose of lemon-aid. It keeps the city at bay, somehow dampening the sound of the trains and the trams and the throng. It keeps the country close at hand, reminding us that fruit comes from trees and trees come from the ground and somewhere, there is blue sky and endless space. It will keep the baby sheltered from the sun, and endlessly amused and intrigued. And it will keep dropping hundreds and thousands of lemons, that I will never quite know what to do with.
What would you do with a never-ending supply of lemons?
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