He found his gloves, hat, knee pads and tools, so he was ready to get to work. The garden was still thawing out with large patches of snow melting in the fresh sunlight and water draining out in the pipes and gutters he had built when he moved in. The sun kept things going in these times. The heat was growing in his back and head, sweat forming a small river; a wet animal feeling was heading down his spine, and the damp earth providing some cooling and chilling climate for his work.
He turned on his knees, seeing his nephew standing at one of the paths leading up to the front of the house and the driveway he only used when he had to go out. Was there a plan for the day? Had he missed something?
“Rudy? Your mom here?”
“Nah, she had to go shopping and said that I could wait here until she got back.”
Very quickly, he did the math: Saturday morning meant groceries, the drug store, Tim Hortons (did she need a coffee, a coffee and a doughnut, or a trio of the coffee, sandwich and whatever else they were offering nowadays?), maybe a quick walk through the mall to a dollar store or some other place (she still bought lottery tickets, too; a real idiot tax for an idiot). So, maybe one hour…
“Okay, okay. You eat yet?”
“No, just juice.”
“Smart, smart. You have an appetite when you come over and you want your uncle to feed you the best breakfast you will have this week.”
Rudy loved this kind of talk, and walked over to the concrete island in the backyard and looked over the garden.
“You are a good cook. But maybe it’s too early for the vegetables?”
“Maybe, but you got to start early. And I am more worried about the flowers. Got plenty of veggies and fruit in freezer and the cold room, but you got to get started early with the flowers.” He got up, looked at the sky, and wiped down his face with his hat. “Got to get them in.”
The omelets he made for the pair of them included some of the tomatoes and spinach he grew last year, and it still tasted great. Rudy kept pounding his back with glasses of milk and then asked for more.
“Slow down! I don’t want that mom of yours complaining about your next stomachache.”
“I’ll be fine. She keeps calling me a ‘growing boy’.”
“Horizontally or vertically?”
Well, it had to happen. Rudy had his laughter accompanied by gouts of milk coming out of his nostrils. He had to laugh at his nephew’s biology, especially without his sister around.
“Take it easy!”
“Sorry.” Rudy wiped his face. “You had a fair question and I should have an answer.”
They kept eating.
“Hey, how old are you now?”
“You know. Thirteen.”
“Thirteen… Last October. Right, right.”
“Yeah. Still a growing boy…”
Now there was something that he had to ask but did not want to touch. But when would he get this chance again?
“So, gotta a girlfriend yet?”
Rudy almost choked on his third glass of milk. “Uncle Dave!”
“It’s a fair question.”
“Well.” He kept smiling, but there was some part of him that really wanted to talk. “There is this one girl I like. Not sure she likes me, though.”
“And we hang out in the cafeteria.”
“She also likes science and math like me. Not like the other girls in my grade.”
“Very good. She can do some thinking with that head of hers. Anything else?”
“She said, ‘I like you, but I don’t know if I like-like you.’”
Dave looked at this nephew very carefully. What he had just heard created the weirdest feeling of déjà vu he had ever had in his life. Did girls just keep repeating themselves every generation? Did they learn these things from moms, aunts, older sisters? Did they…?
“Oh, yeah.” He put down his knife and fork and looked out the window. The weather was going to turn soon. “I heard ya. Seems like that is a bit of a problem.”
“I know, right? I even said to her that I liked her, too. Just didn’t talk about whatever ‘like-like’ means.”
Okay, thought Dale, he is getting the talk from me. He looked at his watch and thought about his sister. Maybe she would be home in about thirty minutes? Forty, if she really saw something she wanted to pretend she could afford?
“Yeah, Uncle Dave?”
“You study biology yet?”
“Just general stuff. They taught us something interesting the other day.”
“What was it?” He really wanted to find a way to get to the topic of his soon-to-be confusing biological changes with whatever the kid was studying in school.
“Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Genus, Species.”
Dave did not move. He also did not blink, which made his nephew a little nervous.
“I think I recognized some of those words. Not sure what they mean when you put them all together like that.”
“Oh, well, they said that when you look at all the animals and plants and things in the world, you can categorize them and put them under all those different headings.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. I even said that in class. Mr. Montadi told me that you can put everything on a chart if you know where it came from.”
Okay, this was an in.
“Oh, yes. You can.”
The sun was coming out again.
“Let’s go into the garden.”
Rudy was a lot like his mother. He was strong, smart, and absolutely useless in the garden. Dave put down the basket and bulbs and noted the message that his nephew had made of the tools. No sense of how to really use them, he thought. No understanding of how things could work.
“I’m sorry, Uncle Dave.”
“No worries. I did not tell you how deep to make the holes. But you should pay attention to the flowers.”
He took out the first set of seeds and opened the packet.
“Now, you remember how you said that everything can be arranged in the right way in science?”
Rudy wiped his face and looked at the ground. “Yeah…”
“Well, a garden ain’t that different. You got the vegetables, the fruit, plants, bushes and so on. And then you got the flowers.” He began to spread out the seeds into the different patches of earth.
“Right. But why did I have to…?”
“Yeah, you told me to prepare the holes with the trowel, or whatever it’s called, so that you could put in some seeds.”
Dave smiled and got down on his knees. All those brains in that young head and he still had a long way to go. He really was his sister’s son.
“Someday, you will be lucky enough to get your own garden. Maybe you will be gardening in a lot of places (some people are so lucky). You will have to learn to treat the soil with respect; you will have to figure out when it is ready for planting; you will also know when the seeds go in. All that will come to you one day. Just make sure that you are ready for the flowers you plant.”
No, the kid still did not get it, but Dave did not mind. He had seen enough gardens grow with even less understanding.
“Now, let’s keep digging until your mom shows up.”