It’s summer again, and I was called (emailed, actually) by my old people to come and clean up the garden one last time. My old people are Elly and Eddie, the sweetest people you’d every want to know. This is the third year I would be doing the garden; and as it turns out, the last year.
I was introduced to the Sharpe’s three years ago by my friend Larry who lives upstairs from them on the Upper East Side. He told me he’d done the garden in previous years, mostly as a favor to the Sharpe’s who are getting on in age and not able to do the gardening work anymore. He also did it to assuage his own aesthetic ideals.
“I have to look out there everyday,” he’d confided in me.
The first time I saw the garden three years ago it was a wildly overgrown, but wonderful place to me. The first time was quite a lot of work, as it hadn’t really seen much
maintenance in a while. I cut vines and shaped the shrubbery along the fence and cleaned and power-washed the brick and concrete path around the central square of Astro-turf.
Last year I actually changed the Astro-turf, and leveled off a few depressions with gravel and sand. I looked up how to do that on YouTube.
The one constant was that I spent some very pleasant quiet time in their garden, enjoying the green and the smell of rich loam underneath my fingernails. I’d never done any gardening before and it’s always great to know how to do one more thing.
For the brief hours I spent there I imagined it was mine, my own private Eden in the middle of the brick and mortar of Manhattan.
Not that there’s no green in the city, it is just that for those moments I didn’t have to share this particular bit of green with barking dogs, crying children or people smoking. Just the sun, the foliage, and me.
I loved the wisteria vine that runs the whole length of the back fence; I didn’t want to touch it, but Elly wanted it trimmed down. I would love to live in a building where the walls are covered in ivy.
Last summer there was lots to do for them besides the garden, they had hired a firm that made apartments “elderly friendly,” and Elly insisted that I be the one to carry out the work. I painted, removed saddles from the floor, and hung lights, whatever needed to be done.
In the garden I changed the Astro-turf and assembled the new teak garden furniture. I was still out of work last summer and doing this work for them was a lifesaver, and I really appreciate their kindness and generosity.
Elly wanted me to clean up the yard and do some things around the apartment last month, and that was also when she informed me that they would be leaving for an assisted living facility outside of D.C. this summer.
“It’s become too much for us,” she said. Even tough they are on the first floor, there is a stoop and she has a hard time managing it with her walker.
Eddie is more ambulatory, but his handicap is the slow creep of dementia. You can’t win against aging; only learn to cope as best as you can.
I was surprised when I got a pang of emotion when Elly delivered the news, I realized that they, especially Elly were more than just clients, they were kind loving people that I had developed an emotional bond with. Maybe it has a lot to do with my mother dying young, who knows… All I know is that I was deeply saddened to hear II wouldn’t be seeing them anymore.
That in itself is a good thing, that I can care for people I barely know, that I’ve learned a thing or two about empathy. Even better is that in doing so, I’ve learned to have a little more empathy for myself; something I only recently realized I was missing.
I will miss the garden, but I will miss chatting with Elly and Eddie more. Elly always greeted me warmly with her Texas charm, and Eddie always declared, “there he is,” in his best Paulie Gautieri imitation.
I am very lucky to have met Elly and Eddie, and to have spent a time in Eden. Thank you Janet and Larry, friends and upstairs neighbors to the Sharpes.