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  • My neighbor Ted watered my garden for a month. Almost everything lived. It was a miracle born of his tenacity and love really that he was able to do it.

    He is, after all, walking on one good leg and one new prosthetic leg. He's still learning how to navigate a world where he can no longer drive, should not drink like a fish the way he had, cannot work and is considered old. As he is diabetic, the drinking in part caused his leg problem. He lives on disability and some type of Veteran benefit. Relies on friends and the disability bus to take him places. He is on antidepressants. They help. It is still hard.

    He was once a gardener, a landscape worker, a small business owner. We have much in common. And I value his knowledge.

    He leaves me vegetables and fruit on the little chair outside my door. Sometimes a plant. Basil, sweet peas.

    After several away trips and coming home to a dead battery in my little cargo van, he now starts my van while I am away. Keeping the motor running and the battery going. The van key was on a flowered key chain when he returned it to me.

    He has lived in this neighborhood and in his little place for over 20 years. He has many friends who come to check up on him, to give him the occasional ride to the store, to talk story, to talk plants. He gives little plant starts away to tourists on their way home from the beach, to friends, new and old, to me.

    Early in our acquaintance he asked me to take him to Walmart. Having never been to a Walmart, it sounded like an adventure to me. Some other friend had flaked on him. Walmart had potting soil on sale. Who can resist potting soil on sale?

    We aligned our schedules, got in the van. Click. No start.

    No problem I said cheerily. Let's take the car.

    Ted looked at me dubiously. You sure you want to take the car? It looks pretty clean.

    It has a big trunk. I said. Let's go.

    He hobble-walked over to the car and off we went. Came home with huge bags of potting soil which I helped him slide-drop-deliver to his garden.

    Last week when I returned from a long time away, we decided to revisit Walmart for potting soil. Got in the van that he had kept running and off we went.

    Walmart had since decided to get out of the garden business. The department was relegated to three short aisles, none of which held potting soil. A clerk confirmed our worst assumptions.

    No problem I said. Let's go down the street to Kmart.

    Ted looked at me dubiously. You sure you want to do that? I know you have things going on.

    You kidding? I said. We're on the hunt for potting soil.

    Ted shook his head and closed the van door. OK he said. Let's go.

    Kmart only had the smaller bags of the kind we wanted. While I picked out some succulents for one of my projects, Ted's card was declined for potting soil. He was embarrassed and pissed and hobbled back to the van in a grump.

    No problem. I said. I wanted to get you something for all your help with my garden. This is perfect.

    Ted harrumphed.

    I paid for the potting soil and the succulents. Smaller bags were a good thing, easier to carry and use. I said.

    Ted sat in the van with the door open, looking morose.

    The kid behind the garden counter didn't appear to be too bright. Nice kid and all, but slow and kind of fumbly looking.

    I told him I wanted potting soil from the piles stacked on the curb. He mentioned a price, sounded familiar from the sign so I said yes. When he came out unexpectedly to help me load it, he picked up bags of garden soil and started piling them in the back.

    Wait wait. I said... I bought potting soil.

    What we discovered was that the sign for the potting soil had come out of its holder and landed face down on the street. It was a higher price than the garden soil. And I couldn't just get a refund/do over from him. No. I had to go inside the store to the customer service counter to get a refund and then come back and have him ring up the correct amount.

    When I told this to Ted he almost exploded.

    What else can I do? I asked. We want potting soil.

    I trotted into the store. Got the refund. The woman behind the counter asked me if I'd like her to just do a store credit and have the kid apply it to my potting soil purchase.

    No. I said, finally letting my frustration take over, I think that might be a little complicated for him.

    Then, realizing how that sounded, I quickly asked her not to tell him I said that.

    Oh yeah, I was really on it there.

    Back in the garden department, the kid rang up my purchase. He asked me if I gardened regularly. I said yes, it's my business.

    He helped me load and told me that he and the manager had planted a little garden in the department. He loved it. And often took home sick plants to tend. In his halting way, he asked me if I'd like to see the garden he and the manager had planted.

    Knowing Ted fancied gardens, I asked him if he'd like to see it.

    No he said. Not interested.

    Fine I said. I'm looking. Be right back.

    You're driving he said. You can do anything you want.

    I guess I expected to see... a garden planted back behind the building. But the kid led me back into the garden department and out to the enclosed area where they kept the plants for sale. They didn't have a lot of plants and they didn't look particularly nice.

    See here, he said pointing with pride to a few scraggly pots planted with herbs, and here... he said, walking me over to view a tomato plant in a pot and several other such pots.

    Looks like you worked really hard on this. I said.

    I'm not here every day to water them. He said, but I come and keep them going every day I'm here. They always come back.

    He spoke softly, with such love. Then he looked at me with his eyes glowing... let me show you something he said.

    He walked over to the plants for sale and scooted several of them aside to pull out a small tomato plant in a small pot. The plant had one decent sized red tomato and several smaller green ones hanging off of it.

    This, he said reverently, is my favorite.

    You keep him hidden, I teased.

    Yes. He said. I've already taken one tomato off of it. Manager said we could if they hadn't sold.

    Well, I said, looks like you have another one ready to go.

    He carefully picked off the tomato and handed it to me.

    Here, you take it.

    Oh no. I said. I...I couldn't. You've worked so hard on it.

    I want you to have it. He said.

    I took it. I looked at the kid with new eyes.

    You really love plants. I said.

    I do. I used to work for a landscaper and when he didn't have enough work for me, I got a job here. I still work for him sometimes. It's nice cause I can take home plants sometimes. Otherwise I couldn't afford it. You know.

    Now, life's funny, isn't it? I stood there and stared at this 'slow' kid. This young man who understood himself and his talents. This genius of heart really.

    I'd been asking myself, the universe, whatever, where I was going to find people with hearts like his to work for me...should my garden business here take hold. How would I find people who really understood plants? How would I know?

    I took Frankie's number. Sure hope I can hire him soon.

    That tomato was one of the best I'd had since eating the ones grown by my grandfather. Nothing like the plastic ones at the store that's for sure.

    Walmart did me a huge favor. And Kmart - they have a jewel of a guy working in their garden department.
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