I love the summer. It’s not just the warm weather that invigorates my soul, but the extended hours of sunlight. These added hours of daylight allow me to take an evening walk that helps soothe my soul. I have learned to cherish this time alone.
As I walk along my usual two-mile route through the neighborhood, I take in the sights and sounds of nature that surround me. I especially enjoy the beautiful flower gardens along the way. Flowers, I think, nature’s artwork. They give my such joy. They have raised my spirits during many difficult times in my life. I depend on them so much to boost my spirit that I have gotten in the habit of buying myself a bouquet each week during the long, dark, cold winter months. I feel that they breathe life into any room.
Returning from one of my walks in mid-June, I turn left onto my street and see a young man about fourteen or fifteen sitting on the curb. He looked up when he heard me coming and stared blankly at me. I met his gaze and said hello with a smile. He didn’t smile back, just turned away dropping his head. He looked depressed. I had never seen him before and wondered where he lived.
I continued to see him for the next few nights, in the same place with the same sullen look on his face so I decided to change my route. Instead of turning left out of my driveway, I turned right. I again saw him sitting in the same spot with the same despondent look. This time instead of just smiling at him and saying hello I stopped and asked him if he wanted to join me.
Puzzled he looked at me obviously confused and unsure of what to do. I assured him that I wouldn’t bite and that I’d seen him sitting there night after night and thought that he might enjoy taking a walk.
He slowly stood up and, without saying a word, began to walk with me. We walked in silence for about the first quarter of a mile and then I asked him his name and where he lived. He told me that his name was Jerome and that he had just moved in with the Doyle family and that he is in foster care. No wonder the sullen look.
We continued our walk, and although curious about his situation, I didn’t ask him too many questions.
Towards the end of our walk, I asked him if he’d like to earn some money by helping me do some yard work the following day. He agreed so I told him to come to my house at one o’clock.
I own a small cottage style house with a front porch and, of course, it is surrounded with flowers. Flower beds in the front yard, back yard and flower beds that wrap around the house like a colorful ribbon during the months of July and August.
Jerome came over and I showed him my gardens. Although not in full bloom, he was amazed at that the flowers that were blooming. I pointed out the astilbe and lilies of the valley in the shade garden in the backyard and the delphinium, poppies, Asiatic lilies and some columbine in the sunnier gardens in the front. He breathed in the scent of the lilacs which had just begun to bloom and was taken aback at their beauty. I offer to cut some for him to bring to Mrs. Doyle when he returned home.
I had bought some manure that I wanted to put down in the flower beds. At first Jerome didn’t like the sound of handling manure. He gave me a quizzical look so I told him that manure would give the flowers the nutrients they needed to grow.
We worked side-by-side for a few hours. During that time, Jerome don’t speak very much and looked at me stone faced when I spoke to him.
I asked him if he’d like to plant some flowers of his own and offered him some sunflower seeds. He made a confused face, “Don’t I eat those?” I smiled, “You might. Some people like sunflower seeds.” Still perplexed, he continued, “They’ll grow into flowers?” “Yes, with time and care, they should.”
He doesn’t even know that flowers come from seeds.
We find a small unplanted area on the corner of the back of the house. Jerome loosened the soil, placed three seeds in the ground, watered and covered them.
Once done, I brought Jerome a glass of lemonade and we sat on the front porch. The day had cooled considerably from when we began our work and the trees swayed lazily in the warm breeze which felt good. I asked him if he wanted join me for my walk later after dinner. He agreed.
Jerome started to join me on my evening walks and began to open up about his past. He told me that his father was in jail and his mother died when he was ten years old. His maternal grandmother was raising him, but she had become ill and didn’t feel that she could take care of him any longer.
He also began to work with me in my garden every weekend. We mulched the beds, deadheaded and watered the flowers. He took notice of the changes that occurred throughout the summer season and was amazed when I told him that most of the flowers in my garden began to grow on their own after the winter. “They grow all by themselves?” He said, shaking his head. Whenever a new flower bloomed, he would inspect it. He seemed truly amazed at the beauty nature could produce.
Once the flowers died, I showed him the seeds that were produced. We collected seeds from the columbine and saved them. I showed him how the seeds pods on the impatients burst open when a little pressure is applied something that he would insist on doing each time he visited my garden.
His childlike fascination with my garden brought the occasional smile to his face. Flowers boost his spirit as they do mine, I thought.
He was particularly amazed at the seeds he had planted the first day that he worked with me. He looked with pure joy at the green hooks that came up out of the ground and then straightened themselves up and grew into a plant that had grown to be as tall as he was. He was fascinated at the sturdiness of its stem and how it grew from something so small. The smile on his face as he looked up to the sunflower once it bloomed was priceless. He asked me if we could collect the seeds once the flower died. “Can I eat them,” he asked?
It was wonderful to see him so entranced with nature. On many of our walks, he would stop along the way and tell me the names of flowers that we passed by. He seemed very proud of himself and his newfound knowledge.
As he began to feel more comfortable, he opened up. He told me about the inner-city neighborhood that he once called home. He talked about being scared of the neighborhood kids when he was younger but then as a teenager beginning to get himself in trouble. He talked about how he had begun to give his grandmother a hard time and would always argue with her. He had begun to do poorly in school and sometimes would skip school.
“Well, this could be a fresh start for you.” I said. He nodded. I suggested that he get involved in a sport in his new school; maybe football or soccer. He wasn’t so sure.
As fall approached, the summer days began to shorten and my garden began to fade, Jerome would come over on the Sundays and help me cut back the perennials that had begun to die. He would cut off any remaining flowers before cutting the plants making small bouquets that he would either give to me or bring to Mrs. Doyle. It seemed that he was truly pained seeing the plants go dormant.
Towards the end of September, my cherished after dinner walks had to be moved up to the afternoons due to the shortened days. Jerome now in school and playing football was no longer able to join me so I had my cherished alone time back. For some reason, though, the alone time that I once adored didn’t have the same appeal.