Gardener at twilight

September 1, 2007

The old man tottered slowly across the lawn to the tables set out under a homemade frame covered with a tarp of an uncertain color.

The hand-lettered sign advertised “Sweet Corn,” but there was none to be seen. He kept the corn somewhere out of sight.

On the tables pasteboard boxes displayed zucchini, a half dozen varieties of peppers in green, red, yellow, and orange. Squash and melons, cabbage. All fat and full and blemish-free enough to cause a bright green envy in any gardener.

Small as a hickory nut he seemed, and old, old, like part of the mountain looming behind his house. Very small, with a full head of white hair that spent most of its time under a red and white baseball cap. His dried paper skin shone pale in the fading light, his eyes rimmed in red.

A square bandage covered part of the mottled purple skin on his left forearm. He moved quickly, with short, rapid steps.

He didn’t say much. He shook hands and nodded when I gave my name, and mumbled something that might have been his own.

“Is there corn? Is it all gone?”

“I keep it inside. Four dollars the dozen. Want a couple?”

I had four dollars.

He stepped through a break in the barricade of tall yews standing in front of the house.

It was not a typical southern Pennsylvania farm house; yellow brick, windows in a Victorian trim, with a Mansard roof. Like him, the place was worn and a little tattered.

I am a gardener, too, but my vegetables rarely come out so handsome. My garden does not get the attention it should since I stopped working from home and now spend 90 minutes a day to and from work. Puttering time is pretty limited.

Weekends are my time in the garden. Sometimes I work my butt off. Sometimes, I just poke around and daydream. The garden isn’t so much about raising stuff to eat, though what survives gets eaten. It’s really more of staying in touch with some primal things, from the determination of seeds shoving themselves up through the decay of the previous year to the relentless appetite of everything for everything else.

After awhile, the old man came back with a dozen ears in a cardboard flat.

“The bag broke, so I put them in this box.”

I handed him four singles.

“Beautiful vegetables,” I said, thinking to draw him into a conversation. Maybe pry a few secrets out of him.

“Thanks. Been hot today.”

I smiled and walked back to the car. I stowed the corn behind the passenger seat. As I eased behind the wheel, I saw him standing between the tables, his pale hands on the peppers, which glowed in the dim light like coals.

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One Response to “Gardener at twilight”

  1. valwebb said

    Beautiful writing! You are a very evocative storyteller.

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