The older I get, the more I crave good, strong help. In this quest, I’ve encountered some frustrations. I once hired a young man to help in the garden, and after an hour or so, I looked out the window and saw him sprawled on the ground. Thinking he had hurt himself or passed out, I rushed to the scene, whereupon he rose up, explaining that he was “just resting.” But that was rare. In my life since my husband’s passing, it’s been my privilege to get to know a number of wonderful young people. They come to do chores, and I watch them grow up. And move on.
A few years ago, a friend who lives nearby struck a deal with me: He would come with his son Josh and the two of them would work together, do whatever I needed done. In return, I would put $10 an hour into Josh’s college fund. I can’t imagine turning down such a deal. And so they began to come, mostly after my friend got off work. I had my list. Wallpaper in the back bedroom needed to be scraped off. The rowboat, which was resting in the weeds beside the hayfield, needed a coat of paint. Pruning, weeding, and hacking back the bittersweet are perennials on the list.
Josh was 14 when he first started coming to work here, even then a tall, amiable fellow, always with a smile and a certain quiet enthusiasm. Early on, another quality emerged. I felt the big rock behind the house should be surrounded by blooms rather than weeds. So I set Josh and his dad to digging a lily bed. As is not unusual in this terrain, they soon hit upon a rock, but the more they dug, the bigger the stone became. I told them to leave it alone, but Josh wanted to finish the job, and so in the darkening of that spring afternoon we left one shovel handle behind and started on another. We brought out crowbars and chocks, working like slaves on the pyramids. Finally, the grip of the earth let go and the giant heaved up, big as a car engine, and Josh rolled it triumphantly into the woods. That was a good introduction to Josh, tenacious and patient in his work.
Each year, Josh grew taller and more interesting to talk with. On their first day here last spring, we walked down to the raspberry patch, which is in a particularly soggy area. High school graduation was soon, and in the fall, Josh would be heading off to college in Connecticut. And so there was a certain amount of levity between us and, on my part, a touch of sadness, as I knew these times would soon end. Josh set to the chore with his usual zest. I identified the raspberry plants for him, as some of them were completely obscured by weeds. With his gloved hands he set aside the canes and pulled out the mats of thatch and pigweed, which clung to dense soil. We tilled in peat moss and loam and, as the sun began to set, tucked the canes back into their (temporarily) weed-free bed.
I can’t think of too many things that are more satisfying than a freshly turned garden bed, and this particular chore gave that good feeling of new potential. Something like a young man with his whole life ahead of him.