Saturday, March 22, 2014

A Helping Hand

“Your… ‘garden’ is looking good,” my 86 year-old neighbor said adjusting his glasses.
“Thanks, Harold,” I said smiling while gazing at my blooming Lantana, Lavender and Verbena lilacina.
“Lots of colors.”
“Hmmm,” I said looking at the yellow blooms of the Aloe, the orange California Poppies and the red Salvia.  
“And such weird plants.”

In Southern California we had a winter with so little rain and so much sun that we rolled from Christmas right into spring—before New Year’s. In my neighborhood, plants and trees have been blooming since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. So although the calendar has finally declared it officially “spring” this announcement seems rather anti-climactic in our neck of the west. Spring sprang months ago. In fact we’re ready to hop right into summer—yesterday.

This was the first winter of our California native and drought tolerant garden. The plants soaked up moisture from the major rainstorm we got last month. In fact that was the reason they were looking so healthy and lush now. I spent a couple weekends trimming back the overgrowth and some dead from a fluke December freeze but then, my weeding work in the front garden was… finished. There might be more minimal pruning come summer but there won’t be any more planting and as for grass mowing? Zippo! With the hard work done all I had to do now was sit back and enjoy my garden’s beauty.

“Have you seen Harold’s yard?” I asked Mr. Wonderful early one Saturday morning.
“Huh?” Mr. Wonderful said through sleepy eyes.
“It’s a wasteland in the front and overrun with ivy in the back.”
“What if we fix it up for him?”
“You and me.”
“Ask me after I’ve had a cup of coffee.”

I was so excited to help Harold remake his yard into the Garden of Eden I forgot it was only 6 AM on a no-work weekend. I prepped the espresso machine then bounded outside for the newspaper where I saw Harold’s spouse sweeping the front walk.
“Hi, Norma!”
“Morning, neighbor,” she said turning her sea blue eyes toward me. “Your garden is so beautiful. We like watching all the… unusual… plants grow.”
“Thanks. Hey, if you need any help with your garden—planting the front or weeding the back—just let me know. I’d love to lend a helping hand.”
“Oh, no thanks.”
“You don’t have to answer now.”
“No, thanks.”
“Think about it.” 
“No, thanks,” she said storing the broom and retreating inside her house.

I returned to the kitchen scratching my head. 
“What’s wrong?” Mr. Wonderful said setting down an empty espresso cup.
“Maybe you should ask Harold if he wants us to help him with caring for their yard.”
“If he wants something, he’ll ask us.”
“Harold is from a different century,” I said explaining how Harold helped everyone else but would rather swim shark-infested waters in Antarctica without a wetsuit than ask us for help. Mr. Wonderful nodded.
“You do have a point.”

Later that day Mr. Wonderful and I were playing a game of Pétanque when Harold moseyed out to collect his flag. 
“Now!” I elbowed my spouse. Together we approached Harold. “Hi, neighbor,” I said smiling.
“Hi?” he said shifting his gaze from me to my spouse then back again. He looked like a mouse cornered by two ferocious tigers.  
“Say, Harold—” Mr. Wonderful began.
“If you want to borrow my green bin, go ahead.”
“We don’t, thank you,” I said then gave my spouse “the look”, which said: speak now or forever hold our peace.
“Harold, you help us all the time so we’d like to return the favor,” Mr. Wonderful said. “If you want us—or just me—to help plant some things in your front yard or weed the backyard, just say the word, we’d be happy to lend a helping hand.”
“Oh, no thanks,” Harold said folding up his flag.
“You don’t have to answer now.”
“No, thanks.”
“Think about it.” 
“No, thanks,” he said escaping to the safety of his house. 

It was so strange. Two people who clearly liked our garden but flat-out refused our help. Why? Were they just being polite? Did they really dislike the idea of depending on us that much? Or did they just say they “liked” our garden but deep down hated the “unusual and weird” looking native plants? I longed to know but they weren’t talking.

Before we could return to our Pétanque game, a car pulled into our neighbors’ driveway. A blond woman rang the doorbell and was greeted with hugs from Harold and Norma. The next day when I retrieved the paper, I saw the blond woman planting pansies in the front flower beds under my 86 year-old neighbor’s watchful gaze. 

“Hey, Harold. You have a helping hand today.” 
“My daughter,” he said. I shook Peggy’s bare hand covered in potting soil. She had a firm grip and friendly smile.
“Your garden is so beautiful,” she said. “I love the Verbena lilacina.” She knew our natives? By name?! I liked her—immediately!
“No lollygagging,” Harold told me. “After this Peggy has to rip out the ivy in the backyard.”

I nodded and left them to their work. Sneaking a look over my shoulder, I saw Harold give his daughter not a helping hand—but a hug.


  1. What a great story! That was so generous of you to offer your help.

    1. Hi Patti,
      Thanks for your comment and for reading! You know, just trying to be a good neighbor because neighbors make a neighborhood. Enjoy today!