One needn’t look at a calendar tonight to know summer has arrived in Hampton. The sun has yet to set, the temperature is in the nineties, the neighbors are packing fishing gear into their truck, and Mrs. Washington two doors down is watering her garden. At seventy-six years old, her body is so ridden with arthritis she has to balance the hose in one hand and her walker in the other, but she’s outside just about every day working the soil.
Each day, I drive past her yard to get home to my own and admire that inspiring garden of hers. Mrs. Washington moved in sixteen years ago and has been nurturing her garden ever since. Her gladiolas tower above the marigolds, dusty millers, and mums. She’s reined her wild clover in, restricting them to the back of the garden. Her onion plant peeks out from beneath a large bush she calls an evergreen. One perennial that she cannot name was in the garden when she moved in a decade and a half ago, and it blooms like a Christmas poinsettia.
Mrs. Washington took an interest in my young garden, painstakingly journeying across two front yards in her walker to take a peek. I asked her advice on how to get my garden to thrive like hers, and she suggested adding marigolds because they can survive the shade and harsh rains. She was beside me when I noticed budding sprouts coming up by my evening glories in my new side garden. Four of the five types of seeds have now surfaced including the nasturtium, marigolds, and broad leaf sage. She reminded me to be mindful not to overwater the impatiens – perhaps I should have sought her counsel before I drowned my own a month ago.
I added some marigolds to my front garden beds today despite the tags which read “Full sun” simply because Mrs. Washington told me to. This is her sole passion. Today, she admitted that last year she was too ill to work outside, and that meant she had a lot more to do this year to make the beds full and vibrant. Now that she’s able again, she says she needs her garden to stay active. It’s not just a hobby. It’s her livelihood, and while the heat might have forced others inside to air conditioning, she has nurturing to do. I’ve come to admire her even more than her garden during our chance encounters on our street a few times each week.
My next door neighbor to the left doesn’t live here anymore, but he still owns the home. Since he doesn’t pay for water or trash service, every Wednesday he comes to do yard work and piles all his branches and clippings on the curb spilling into my front yard… and there they sit all week long until Tuesday trash day, interfering with my neighbors’ street parking preferences.
Last week, Mrs. Washington caught him building up his weekly pile and read him the riot act. “What do you think you’re doing putting all your trash in that poor girl’s yard? You should be ashamed of yourself!” When he came to return my borrowed lawn mower, he recounted his interaction with Mrs. Washington for me, and my insides were bubbling over with laughter I tried my best to contain. The truth is, I can’t stand to look at those branches all week long, but I’ve never found the nerve to speak up. I wouldn’t want to cause unnecessary dissention.
The sun has finally set, and my wind chimes are wild in the wind, my new hanging impatiens baskets dancing in delight. The calm only thirty seconds ago has been replaced by frantic rains, and I’m grateful for the cover of my magnolias that protects this front porch, though I had to move to the center, my back now leaning up against my red door. I look to my right at the white wicker loveseat I usually write in, and I remember when there was a couple sitting in it. Months before, it was my boyfriend and me. Years before, it was my husband and me. Perhaps months from now they’ll be a boyfriend again, years from now, a husband again. But for now, that wicker has room for only me and my writing.
Last week, I wrote about my first first date since I was twenty-one. I have since had a second first date and a first second date. There was no lukewarm conversation this time, but rather deep, insightful, long conversations over the phone and in person that were so promising I bounced about like a school girl in my house getting ready for the dates. The right sundress and heels, classy make-up, hair perfect in curls. On our first date, we walked along the marina in downtown Hampton and he taught me about the boats we passed. He took my hand in his and nervous butterflies flitted about in my tummy. On our second date, he admitted that infidelity was at the root of his divorce, and I wanted so desperately to overlook it that I said nothing in reply.
I wouldn’t want to be judged for my past mistakes, so how could I dismiss this potential match that was so well-suited for me on paper and in person for a mistake he so clearly regretted? After taking a day to process it, we talked on the phone, I thanked him for his honesty, reminded him of the incredible qualities he had that I’d come to appreciate, and explained that given my past personal injuries, I just wasn’t able to overlook this. He respected my decision, and we parted amicably.
One might think that after two unsuccessful attempts at online love connections that I might begin to lose faith; quite the contrary is true. As I perused new eHarmony match suggestions today, I found myself even pickier than before! The handy little “hide match” feature might have felt unfairly overused, but I refuse to settle. If I see the smallest detail in a man’s profile that gives me pause, I dismiss him immediately. My sights are set on a man of integrity and shared values. I’m sticking with my list. I know what I want. It’s not unreasonable to believe he’s out there looking for me too… it’s just hopeful. And hope should not be overlooked even when past regrets cannot be.
Mrs. Washington is a new acquaintance, but that didn’t stop her from wanting the best for me. She was willing to cross the yard in her walker to face a man she believed was taking advantage of my kind disposition. Arthritis cannot halt her inner strength and courage. Had she been sitting next to me on my second date when I heard the admittance of infidelity, she would have stood up and said, “Girl, let’s get you home. It’s time to plant some new seeds!”
Can a plant that has failed in another’s garden find success in mine? Maybe, but am I willing to take the plunge and plant it? Can a marigold meant for sun find success in the shade? We’ll see. With every flower that I’ve planted, I’ve taken a risk of coin, labor, and time. After research and counsel, I’ve made my own choices about which risks I’ve been willing to take. Each day, when I admire Mrs. Washington’s garden, I’m witness to sixteen year’s worth of choices and risks that have amounted to an incredible spectrum of color and life… and I see the future of my own garden if I’m willing to keep planting in hope, toiling in faith, and risking in belief of greatness to come.
My geraniums couldn’t survive intense rains. My petunias couldn’t blossom without sun. My azalea’s blooms faded. My magnolia blossoms fell. My great oak tree rotted from the inside out. But there’s still life in my garden with new sprouts of life nearly every day. The rains have ceased, but the wind cools my skin as I settle back into my writing perch on the wicker loveseat. Just enough room for me and my writing. Just enough room to make sense of the space between me and my future. Just enough room to appreciate the solitude.
Because unless it’s that dream man of quality and integrity, I prefer the vacancy. It reminds me that, like trying to grow my garden, dating new people will often result in poor outcomes, and we dig out the withered roots to make room for something we haven’t tried yet. Until I find something worth planting next to me, something worthy of the risk of time and labor, that vacancy is a promise of greatness to come, like Mrs. Washington’s garden.