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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The summer after Fred died

Fred was my across-the-street neighbor, and then my friend, and only later in our time of knowing each other, the year before his physical health began to decline dramatically, my gardening partner.  Fred was about twice my age, and in the spring and summer of 2009 I began to notice that he was slowing down and getting dizzy climbing the tall ladder to pick figs from the uppermost reaches of the old tree. He needed some help, after so many years of being of help to so many others, in so many ways.  I like to think I tricked him into taking me on as his gardening apprentice by asking him to teach me everything he knew, posing as if I were a gardening innocent. But it has occurred to me more recently that perhaps he had been hoping for some time that I’d take a more active role working alongside him.  We lived across the street from each other, after all, and--even better--we were true friends, so how could we pass up time together doing something we both loved to do?

We never talked about it in any direct or explicit way while he was still living, but after he died in January of 2010 I knew with a certain conviction that he wanted me to do what I could to keep his garden growing. My intuition was confirmed when his adult children, son and daughter, invited me that next spring to join them in planning and preparing the garden, and then planting and tending the garden, and then – joy – sharing in the garden’s gifts: raspberries, red and blond; artichokes; asparagus (which I discovered hiding under weeds and for which I created a little protective rock wall); green beans; lilies and iris; figs; roses of all hues; lemon cucumbers; winter and summer squash; and many varieties of tomatoes and lettuces (including radicchio.). Oh, and concord and Muscat grapes.

That first spring and summer after Fred went back to the stars, the three of us gathered together at the garden almost every Sunday for part of the day to make lists of the different vegetables we wanted to plant, to prepare the soil, build the support structure for the green bean plants, plant and tend to wee seedlings, and, once the growing season really kicked in, water and weed and – best of all – harvest the fruits of our collective labor. In between our Sunday meetings, I served as the caretaker of Fred’s garden and yard – I mowed the front and back lawns, pruned the roses (and made some lovely bouquets!), plucked raspberries and picked figs. I also made arrangements with a local organization that serves meals to folks who are homeless to give them excess produce in exchange for their compostable kitchen scraps. Fred’s daughter, proprietor of a small Community Supported Agriculture farm outside of the city, sold some of the extra produce from Fred’s garden to her CSA members, along with unique treats from her farm (green garlic; homemade goat milk cheese).

What a great summer we had! Caring for the garden, working alongside his children, extending his legacy in new ways kept Fred alive and central in my daily life.

At the time I imagined it was the first of many summers working together to continue Fred’s legacy, a legacy that began many decades previously and involved not only nurturing what amounted to an urban farm started by his parents in the early part of the last century, but also continuing Fred’s practice of sharing saved heirloom seeds and the variety of fruits and vegetables grown on the large plot.  I must admit that I assumed the garden would continue at least for the rest of my life-time, and that as long as I lived right across the street I’d be intimately involved in watching over it.

Note: If you are interested in knowing more about Fred, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­please read the essays Fred’s Figs: A Legacy Tale, Part One; Part Two: Fred's Figs; and A Legacy Tale, Part 3. You’ll find it in the archives from 2010. And please stay tuned for future installments!

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