Joe Charap works at a cemetery. Although his job isn’t especially spooky, it has provided him with a healthy sense of mortality. “Just as trees grow and die, death is a part of life,” said Mr. Charap, the director of horticulture at Brooklyn’s renowned Green-Wood Cemetery, who tends to over 478 acres and 8,000 trees and shrubs from his home on the 183-year-old property, a Gothic Revival caretaker’s residence built in 1876.
But he is not alone among the living there. Keeping Mr. Charap, 39, company are his wife, Catherine, 36, a clinical psychologist; their son, Ben, 4; their daughter, Pearl, 1; and their cat, Sophie, 16. His house may have a different atmosphere than other residences in the surrounding neighborhoods, but he likes it that way: “It’s like living in a castle across from a Burger King,” he said. “And having the kids here is great because I want them to experience this landscape as a place to be embraced, not feared.”
PANCAKES IN PJS Our day usually starts around 6 or 7. Either Ben comes into our room or Pearl will wake up and start making sounds on the monitor. I’ll be the one to go up and give Pearl a bottle. Catherine will go make coffee and Ben will have steamed milk. When I come down with Pearl, Catherine makes a Dutch baby, which is a large pancake we split so each of us gets a piece. We used to do pancakes, but this is kind of easier to make and delicious. We keep our pajamas on. Ben has spaceships on his pajamas. Mine are plain.
PARENTAL TRAINING At around 9 I’ll put Pearl down for a nap. I’ll use that time to try and get a little extra rest myself and get a quick workout in. I have some free weights in the house and we have a Peloton. I like exercising. It’s sort of improved my body for the trials and tribulations of parenting.
ZEN VACUUM When Pearl’s up I begin my Sunday cleanup around the house. Pearl helps. She’s into organizing by taking things out of drawers and putting them in different places. I vacuum. Vacuuming the stairs in this house is something I just enjoy. It’s meditative, and it’s this very finite process so you get a sense of completion. I also enjoy doing the laundry.
TREES AND PLANTS It’s a habit on Sundays for us to have lunch at home with the kids. Basically, whatever’s in the fridge from the night before comes out. Then Ben goes up to take a nap and the three of us go out to the front yard, where we have this beautiful 100-year-old Japanese maple. Pearl loves to walk the path around there, and she’ll interact with the weekend security guard at the Fort Hamilton entrance, Debbie. They have a very sweet relationship. I’ll water the few outdoor plants that I have. The ones I’m fondest of growing recently are Amorphophallus, which is known as being among the smelliest plants. Maybe someday we’ll get it to flower at Green-Wood.
ERRANDS When Ben is up, he and I jump in my work car and head toward the service yard, where they take our garbage from the house. That’s also where all the machines and the equipment we use at the cemetery are. There’s a lot of old nonfunctioning machines we use for parts, things like tractors and old mowers. Ben loves it. We’ll look at plants, too. He’s been asking a lot of questions about pollinators lately. I guess I’ve been talking a lot about them at home.
THE SPOT Later we take a long walk as a family through Green-Wood to our favorite spot, under these really large yew trees. It’s basically like a little enclosed world. The kids can play hide-and-seek there under the canopy. Pearl laughs at anything Ben does. I can’t help but look at some of the new plants we’ve grown and obsess about how they’re doing. My family will slowly start walking away from me if I continue talking about the trees.
TASTES LIKE CHICKEN What we’ve been doing for dinner is roasting a chicken one of my collaborators, Dr. Frank Rossi, has been bringing us from his farm. He’s a scientist from Cornell working on this urban grasslands project to make grass more sustainable in urban environments. He always asks for reviews on his chickens. The texture is great. They’re not giant breasts like from the supermarket. They taste like what you think a chicken should taste like. Pearl loves the bones. She’s teething.
GHOST STORIES Pearl’s in bed at 6:30 or 7. I’ll give her a bottle and read her a story. She likes when I make train noises. Then Ben and Catherine and I watch the show “Octonauts” before Ben goes up to sleep. After that Catherine and I watch the Agatha Christie series “Poirot.” I think we’ve been watching it since Catherine was pregnant with Ben. We’ll also read. I’m a big fan of ghost stories. That predates my job here, but I guess it works out well. Right now I’m reading “The Green Man” by Kingsley Amis.
NO ZOMBIES We’re out by 11 at the latest. Now and again on a Sunday we’ll have someone who got locked in the cemetery past closing ring our doorbell, but that will happen around the time we put Pearl to sleep, because the cemetery closes at 7. I’ll go down and let them out. And invariably they’ll ask me the same question: Do you actually live in that house? It’s a really special place. And a privilege to be here.