|When I was very young (about ten or eleven years old), I heard that our neighbor, a retired physician, had lost his wife after a long illness. He was such a dear soul, and he had the most spectacular gardens in his backyard. The whole neighborhood could see his glorious flowers from the street. The backyard was a profusion of daisies and roses, snapdragons and lilies, hyacinths and columbines. I used to think there wasn’t a flower in the world that he didn’t grow.
Our family didn’t know the doctor. The extent of our interaction resided in a wave hello as we would walk past his house on the way to the city park. He only lived two houses across the street from us, but it might as well have been a full block away, for how little we knew him.
It made me sad that his wife had died and I was sure he was lonely, because the few times I saw him on the block, he looked sad. So I decided to take it upon myself to be the one to make him smile. After school, I would go over to his house and chat with him while he worked in his backyard. The way he told me all about his flowers, you could tell gardening was his joy. One day it was raining hard and he wasn’t outside, so with the boldness of youth, I knocked on his front door. When he answered it, I just strolled right in, like I owned the place. His stairway had a circular landing and then a single step down to the main floor into the living room. It was a perfect stage.
So, I would sing and dance every single song I knew (bear in mind that my ballet teacher had told me I had the grace of an elephant), and he would applaud furiously and yell, "bravo! bravo!" when I was done. Looking back as an adult, he may have been cheering the fact that this torture was nearly ending! 😉 Then, an hour later, I would go home for dinner.
This continued for what must have been weeks, because school was finally out, and it was almost Easter when his wife had died. After every performance, I took a deep bow (sometimes several) while he applauded like crazy. And when the weather was sunny and we could go back to his garden, I would often sing while we worked. Sometimes I could hear him humming and it would make me smile, because you can’t hum and be sad.
One day, my mother heard a knock at the door. When she opened it, the retired doctor was standing there with an HUGE armload of cut flowers– all from his garden. He said he wanted to thank her for letting me keep him company after the death of his wife. She was speechless at the variety and amount of flowers he had brought in gratitude. There were so many flowers that she filled every vase we had, and all three floors of the house had fresh flowers in every room.
To this day, gardening has become my joy and passion as well. I credit him with instilling that in me at an impressionable age. He was a dear and gentle man, and I imagine that when he retired, he had scores of patients who begged him not to go.
Dear Dr. Brownlee,
Thank you for letting this child comfort you. And thank you for the gift of your beautiful flowers!
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