Roughly 19 years ago, a dad wrote a message on a wooden stud of his toddler’s playhouse he had built just for her in the backyard.
“For Genevieve’s third birthday,” it read. He then signed his name.
A few weeks later, the surprise playhouse was complete. Ron Carlson, 62, of Edgeworth, had worked through December and January to finish the outdoor playhouse for his daughter’s third birthday in February.
Carlson described the moment he and his wife, Anna, gifted the playhouse to Genevieve as “very cool.” It was decorated for her birthday, with some toys waiting to be played with, he said. Over the years, the playhouse was used for sleepovers and tea parties.
The house was furnished with play-size furniture and a tiny kitchen set. The Carlsons’ backyard also features a pool, so Genevieve remembers playing in the house with her friends between dips in the summer. She remembers bringing an extension cord into the house to plug in a lamp.
“Good childhood memories,” she said.
As Genevieve got older and eventually moved away for college, the playhouse sat — a tangible reminder of treasured memories.
Earlier this year, Carlson noticed the wood had begun to rot. The walls and its foundation were starting to crumble.
He resolved to tear it down. He presented the idea to his wife and to his daughter, who had just moved back home from New York University because of the covid-19 pandemic.
As an avid gardener, Anna Carlson could have used the new space for more outdoor gardening. Genevieve said she agreed to let her dad tear it down.
“It wasn’t looking so great … and we don’t really use it,” the now-21-year-old said.
But then the family talked about it, which began a brainstorm of sorts aimed at reviving the space to create new memories.
“I suggested making it a meditation space because it was getting crowded inside the house all together,” Genevieve Carlson said.
It was around this time large sections of the economy had been shut down for a time to curb the spread of covid-19.
“And my wife likes spending time in the garden … so all of us could use it if it was also a greenhouse,” Ron Carlson said.
He began the project in June and spent most of the summer completing it. Carlson grew up with brothers and a father who taught them all how to be handy with tools. As a chief financial officer for a trucking company, his job was deemed essential. He worked on weekends and whenever he could find the time.
“It was definitely something I enjoyed doing,” he said. “I mean, I wasn’t getting away from the house. There were no vacations. No trips to go somewhere else.”
It is now complete, featuring a copper roof, glass paneling for the greenhouse and renovated walls and flooring. The new space also has water hook-ups, electricity, a heater and a solar-powered, automatic ventilation system.
Genevieve Carlson, who still lives at her parents’ home but attends online classes, said she uses the space in the mornings to sit quietly and think about the day ahead. Sometimes she goes out there at night to look up at the stars and moon through the windows.
“It’s been an emotionally tolling year. It’s strange for everyone everywhere,” she said.
She said the space is more than just a place to escape from daily stresses. When she sees the little house from her parents’ kitchen window, it reminds her of her dad’s love.
“It’s really amazing, my dad’s dedication. Anything he’s working on, he’s always all in. It was cool to watch him working on this all summer long. It means a lot to me and my family,” Genevieve Carlson said.
It even means something to family friends, who already have asked the family if they could store their indoor plants inside the greenhouse through winter, she said.
The greenhouse portion of the new space already is teeming with a variety of vegetables, such as green beans, potatoes and figs. There are plans to grow hydroponic lettuce, too.
Ron Carlson said he doesn’t sit still well. So he hasn’t been out to the space very much. He hopes to use it more, but the space was designed with others in mind, anyway.
When renovating this summer, he found the wooden stud with the message he had scrawled years ago. He smiled and decided to write a new one: “For Genevieve’s 21st birthday, Covid summer 2020.”
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