Ernie wears old navy blue polyester pants and wide suspenders. But no shirt. He walked back to his house, across the street from mine, with a shiny black garbage back filled with what he handled like a treasure. The garbage bag glistened in the early morning June sun. It was full but misshapen, and whatever he collected inside wasn’t a single mass, but several objects, some even poking at the side, stretching the black plastic.
He does different things, my neighbor Ernie, like old men tend to do. He sits by the curb in a once glossy white plastic lawn chair. It’s the stacking kind and he has two of them; but he never stacks them. He keeps the chairs—unstacked—always in the same place at the side of the house in the shade where he sometimes sits, too.
But I haven’t seen Ernie sitting outside this week.
Ernie lives there, across the street, in his former sister-in-law’s house. She took him in after life handed him unfortunate cards. The place has a magic about it and I remember she told me once that she fell in love with the house the moment she saw it, over 30 years ago. And she must’ve begun planting right then and there because her garden is a fascinating, heartfully-tended wonderland.
There is an exotic tree brought from Scotland as a tiny sapling that she nursed to towering maturity. A rosemary bush the size of a small car fills the air with its pungent scent, causing a sudden craving for rosemary-rubbed roasted chicken. Flowering vines tumble over the lean-to garden shed at the side of the house. Yellow daffodils brighten the walkway at the edge of her property, announcing happily to the neighbours that spring has sprung. Peachy rosebushes look as though plucked from a prize-winning gardener’s magazine. Garlic the size of my fist was a spur of the moment gift when I walked by last year. Delicate purple wisteria may have the best view in town as it winds around porch posts and along the eaves, facing out to the sea.
Her home has been a sanctuary and her garden has been a gift to the neighbourhood for decades, bringing smiles to passersby and to neighbours through their windows. But fate has taken a turn and the community is mourning. Cancer decided to grow and took her last week. What will become of the sapling from Scotland? What of Ernie? Who will coax the wisteria along the porch just so?
Ernie takes a rest in his white chair in the shade for a moment. He fidgets with his suspenders, unsettled. The rest is over before it begins as he rocks back and forth to give himself some momentum to get his old bones up and out of the chair. He ambles back to the black garbage bag and reaches inside. One by one he carefully retrieves spent spring daffodil bulbs with their wilted stocks. He places them gently on the ground in a row.
Down the street I see landscapers’ trucks and big digging machinery. And I can’t hold back the tears as I realize Ernie’s flower rescue.
No, this week Ernie is not sitting in his chair at the curb. There is much to do.
Image via 9freepictures.
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