This I Believe
There wasn’t a rock garden in front of my house twelve years ago. There was only a patch of black dirt with a few scruffy patches of grass. It was one of the first things I knew I would have to change after I married my second husband, Thomas. It looked a bit of a challenge, but I loved challenges. I had gardens before, and I was looking forward to planning what plants to purchase, and where to put them. I envisioned a lovely little “oasis” for my neighborhood in the rough Third Ward. At that time, I was only striving for physical botanical beauty. I didn’t realize that the garden would evolve over the years also into a neighborly “oasis” of hearts.
As I am pulling some stubborn dandelion weeds from the tiny rock garden in front of my humble “half-a-double” home, I hear the familiar sound of Miss Florence’s clattering grocery cart. Miss Florence is an aging African American woman who lives somewhere in my neighborhood in the Third Ward. Routinely, twice a week she can be heard pushing the squeaking, rusty cart down the trash strewn street. Surprisingly, there aren’t any groceries in the cart, just extended family’s freshly washed and folded laundry that she did at the neighborhood Laundromat. “How are you doing today?” I cheerfully quip to her. Miss Florence friendly retorts, “Ahm jes fine honey. How’s yah daughter? Tell er, ah seys hey.” “I’ll let her know when I see her.” I said. Noticing the blooming menagerie of lilacs, pink azaleas, bleeding hearts, creeping myrtle, violets, and pansies,Miss Florence says, “Nice garden y’all got there. Can’t stand round n’da heat. Hot out t’day!” She slowly meanders toward her destination as I continue working in my little garden. What she didn’t realize was that I am not only tending to the garden, but tending to the neighborhood too.
There would be numerous physical and emotional blows to the garden. One day I came home from work to find the lavender and blue hydrangea rudely ripped right out from the ground, and tossed carelessly into the street. A few years later, I discovered to my dismay that all of the tops of the sunflowers had been broken off and discarded. Another day as I was working in my garden, I heard a gang of kids coming around the corner. They were screaming and yelling expletives to one another. Fists started pummeling chests, and soon there was a riot right in front of my property. Suddenly, I realized that I really shouldn’t be outside, that I should go inside and call the police. Before the police arrived, the riot landed on top of my prized Martha Washington azalea. The bush was destroyed. This did not deter me from planting more flowers. Instead it caused me to become even more determined to continue to create the microcosmic postage stamp sized garden. The neighborhood wasn’t going to discourage me from being friendly either. I continued to say hello to folk as they passed by. Some people responded, some just sort of grunted, some ignored me. I continued to water my garden, plant in my garden, and pull weeds from my garden. I continued to believe in setting a friendly example for others to follow.
The seeds of friendliness that I so purposefully planted started to grow. Children of multi-cultures and multi-cultural blends began showing up in droves when they saw me working in the garden. “What is that flower called, Miss Judy” said one little seven-year-old brown skinned girl. “Well, that is what you call a bleeding heart.” I explained. I further took this teachable moment to explain why it was called a Bleeding Heart. Further lessons were right around the corner. Geology lessons about types of rocks, and where they were from, showing young inquisitive boys how a Venus Fly Trap eats flies, pulling worms out of the ground and handing them to my skittish five-year-old grandson, Neo, and demonstrating the proper way to plant flowers, are some examples of little lessons I have taught. Giddy teen-age girls giggling about boys break from their silly routine and run over to give me a hug. The neighbors cross the street in the dusk and cool of the evening to chat while I am watering the flowers. Some passers-by detour around the spray of water, while others deliberately dive into the flow. Rivulets of water transforms the sidewalk into a ford for little girl’s bicycles to splash through. My garden is a peaceful haven for the neighborhood.
My grandchildren and neighborhood children know that there is a box of sidewalk chalk sitting on my porch. They tug on the leather strap that is attached to the old-fashioned brass dinner-bell to announce their arrival. “Of course you can use the chalk,” I said. “Why don’t you try to draw one of those flowers from the garden?” Instantly, there are several artists congregating on my sidewalk. They are challenging each other on who will be the best artists. After distributing colorful ice pops to the crowd, I bring the CE player outside, and play some of Beethoven’s classical music. “What do you call that?” One youngster asked. “That is Fur Elise. It is a little bit different than what you listen to isn’t it? I answered. Butterflies flit around, Cardinals, Goldfinches, Sparrows, and Doves swoop on to the feeder, a praying mantis makes a visit. Ozzie stops by to see if my husband tom can repair the chain on his bicycle, and to show us his gleaming trophy he just won. Mint, Thyme, and Rosemary scent the air with hunger. “Can I eat some Mint?” said Ahonesty. “Certainly!” I exclaimed. I notice a young African American man wearing an oversized whit t-shirt and jeans barely hanging on to his derriere (gang regalia in my neighborhood) strolling down the street. He seems unaware of the beauty of the little garden at first, but as he passes by, I say,”Beautful day isn’t it?” He looks at me with surprise, and unexpectedly glances at the lilacs, and says, “Yea, it is. Nice garden ya got there.” I believe this garden made me grow, and I believe that this garden brought the neighborhood a little “oasis” of the heart. A garden can be more than just flowers. It can be a place for friendships to grow, and a place of refuge in a rough neighborhood.
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