"We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." ~Maya Angelou

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Planting Community: A tale

      The shoes on the sidewalk caught my eye, low heels, taupe, and then I saw her. She was on her knees in a mass of weeds and spindly rose bushes, a small woman, with arms spotted by the sun and time. She wore a blue and yellow shirtwaist, belted.   I wondered if she had lost something. No, nothing lost, apparently, but perhaps something found. She said the weeds were winning and someone needed to do something more than shake their head. 
      I knelt beside her and helped her pull them while we talked. She advised me to remove my shoes. We worked in silence, sweat running down our faces.  
-Shouldn't we wait until it's cooler? I asked in a sheepish voice. 
-When would that be, do you think? No time like the present. 
-But…. your dress.
      She sat back on her heels and turned to me, brushing the white hair out of her eyes with her forearm.
-Can't you hear them? 
It had to be today.
 I have other dresses, for goodness sake.
-Hear them? I'm sorry, what?
    With a sigh she turned back to her work with an almost imperceptible shake of the head that felt like a reprimand. I kept pulling and tossing the weeds onto the walk. Quite a lot of time passed and two, then three, four rose bushes, or what once were rose bushes, stood cleared of weeds. 
-They'll need water.
-Yes, and trimming and food.  She continued at her steady pace, moving ever outward, whispering as she worked.
-I'll be right back.
     Rising, I walked the three blocks to my home, changed clothes, threw a hoe, some trimmers and some work gloves into the pickup, talked my wife Sara into coming with me, and backed out of the drive way.  Then I stopped, pulled forward and went back inside. I filled a cooler with ice water, threw in some plastic cups and loaded it into the back. We drove back to where she was still working.
- Here. I've brought you water.
-Thank you, that's so nice. Is this your wife?What a nice man you have my dear. 
 She took the cup and drank deeply, relishing the coolness, dabbing some on her face and neck with her fingers.  I handed her a hat I had found behind the seat and a pair of gloves. Flashing me a smile, she pulled them on. 
-Ah, so much better. They make the outfit, don't you think? Posing, as for a picture .
  Sara and she knelt together in the weeds, quietly chatting as they worked.
     I laughed and began scraping up moats around each cleared bush, to hold the water. Soon a man emerged from the house and stood watching us for some moments, then went 
inside. He soon reappeared in work clothes, unrolling a hose from the faucet on the side of the house. We all stood and introduced ourselves as he filled the moats I had completed. Paul, the man who lived there,  said his family had recently moved into the 
neighborhood and thought this was just a weed patch. He was delighted to discover it 
was a rose garden. The soil quickly drank up the water and seemed to ask for more.

    Her name was Ella. Her father had been a breeder of roses in Pennsylvania when 
she was growing up in the early '20s.  Roses had been her playmates, she said, and she knew them all by name. She asked if I had any clippers and, taking them, went to work, carefully gauging where to clip each live branch, cutting out the dead wood, checking for growth nodes, whispering, touching the green stems. 
      Paul took over the weeding as I continued to mound up the soil.  Soon his wife and teenage son had joined us, amazed at how many of the bushes had survived their 
neglect.  Ella called the boy over and showed him where to clip, what to cut and what to save. His mother brought a wagon from the garage and began picking up weeds and 
rose clippings. Finally, as the light began to fade, Ella stood, slowly, hand on her lower back, and grimaced.  
-That's enough for today. They'll be okay. She turned to me, blue eyes bright in her 
lined face.
.-Can you hear them now?
I shook my head. -No, but I believe you can. 
-Yes, well... they have to get to know you, she muttered with a grin, and began pulling
 off her gloves. Looking round at all of us, she asked,
-What were you going to do this afternoon before I kidnapped you all? 
      We laughed and I replied I had planned to mow the lawn. Paul's family had been watching the game on TV.  
-Ah, I'm so glad you stopped to help instead. And turning to me she asked,
Why did you anyway?
-It was the shoes. I thought maybe someone was hurt.
-Oh yes, the shoes.  I have trouble keeping them on; they cramp my style so.  
    Paul finished filling the last moat and spoke, as we were tossing our things in
the truck.

-Will you come again, all of you?  Come tomorrow, and bring some friends. We'll see
 what else is hidden in here. I'll break out the grill and treat you to supper. 
Please, come. 

With a laugh and a hand raised skyward, Ella replied for all of us ,
-Oh, yes! Love to.  I'll bring my grandson and his girlfriend. We'll have ourselves a little party.   
I helped her into the pick-up and Sara slid in beside her, pulling the door shut. 
As we pulled away, waving, we noticed the son, kneeling in the dirt, studying where
best to make the next cut.

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