Back in April at the height of the daffodil season, I wondered in this space whether hijacking your neighbor’s flowers — considering that the neighbor’s lot was just a gritty wasteland waiting for the construction of what would probably be yet another blight on the block — was really such a bad thing.
This particular place had been a floral showstopper before its modest house was demolished. The two gentleman gardeners who’d lived there had lovingly tended a riot of shrubs, trees, and flowers that spilled over beyond their fence onto the semipublic strip of land adjacent to the road, where, from mid-March to mid-May, “a host of golden daffodils” — also orange, red, and pink, Mendelian colors that Wordsworth could not have conceived of — “stretched in never-ending line.” Hundreds of them, maybe as many as a thousand. A host, for sure.
Every year in daffodil season I used to go out of my way to walk on that side of the road. But this spring, while the stunning procession marched down the aisle as always, there was no house, at least not yet; no trees, no shrubs, no owners that anyone knew of, no nothing. And it had been that way for a year. Likely a corporation waiting to resell and make a killing, we surmised.
So I didn’t think overmuch about doing a little expropriating. Rather than stopping and ogling and walking on, as in the past, I cut some daffs every few days and took them home, or to work, to admire. There were so many flowers that no one could possibly have told the difference if I hadn’t then gone and written about it, asking whether this small act of insurrection was, in fact, stealing.
Two things happened not long after that column ran. One, earth-movers arrived to begin construction. And two, I got an email from the property owners.
“. . . We are not a corporation, but a couple, who also love Amagansett and respect the house and land that we bought.”
“. . . Unfortunately, the house we purchased was ramshackle at best, held together by a paint job. The plantings, which we completely admired, were one of the reasons the house and land were so compelling for us. Had you taken a little more time to notice, before stealing our flowers, you might have seen how we actually transplanted as many of the beautiful trees the former owners planted that were viable in the back of our property, creating a nursery to protect them as we construct our house. Had you bothered to try to contact us, you might have understood that we actually had issues with a builder and had to call a halt to our construction until things could be sorted out.”
“We purchased that property not as a corporate plaything, but as a place where we could actually build a dream house — on land where we understood and respected the love with which the former owners tended their property. Our house will be beautiful and will reflect and respect the former owners as well as the neighborhood. Maybe you would have preferred a McMansion to be constructed in a few months’ time. It is unfortunate that you have chosen to characterize and ridicule us without any attempt to find out who we might be or what we might be doing.”
“Yes, the daffodils are beautiful and the land is beautiful. But there is more to this story. Your conflict with whether or not stealing our daffodils is actually stealing is actually a conflict. Yes, it is stealing. And even more, you have completely disrespected us. All our best wishes.”
Disaster. Here were people who had been hurt not once (okay, it was stealing) but twice (by writing about it). How to make amends?
“Buy them daffodil bulbs,” was the office consensus. “Drop them off with a nice note.”
Before I could do that, though (bulbs don’t come in to the nurseries until fall), the Amagansett Fire Department’s 100th anniversary parade took place. I was standing in the crowd on Main Street waving at the old pump trucks when along came a couple I hadn’t seen in years, and as we were catching up along came another, and the four of them started talking. And that was how I met the writers of the email, who, after an apology on one side and some initial wariness on the other, turned out to be the diametrical opposite of everything I’d been so sure about.
Better yet, the house has, too. It’s maybe half-finished now, going up slowly, as good houses do. I check it out every day as I go by. It’s going to be a knockout.
Irene Silverman is The Star’s editor-at-large.