My garden, such as it is, has been pretty disappointing this year. Living in Portland, I have read about the blistering summer that has afflicted much of the country for about 2 1/2 months now. We never got that summer here. What little summer we got is pretty much kaput. Finis. Terminado. Ya se fue. Volado. Gone in 7 weeks.
That's a short summer. And I have the garden to prove it.
There wasn't much to harvest this year, but what I have harvested so far has been well distributed. As always, there was enough for my wife and I, but this year I gave away my surpluss a little more selectively. I used to give my excess produce away to those most close to my house...the immediate neighbors. I still do that, but on a much smaller scale. I have learned who in the greater neighborhood really needs and appreciates fresh vegetables. And I target my produce giving to them.
Not only is it more fulfilling, the transaction of giving a bag of tomatoes, or potatoes or squash is much more genuine. You can tell when someone accepts produce from your garden out of civility, and when someone genuinely has a need and use for it. Not because of what they say when you you offer them some vegetables, but by their body language...and their honest appreciation. Their smile.
Today was a good day for smiles.
Anna is a neighbor of mine. She lives down the street, in a large apartment complex. I don't often think of many of the apartment dwellers as being neighbors, bit there are a few. Anna must be 70 years old, and is from Trinidad. She could be 65, or she could be 85. She's one of those elderly Ladies of mixed ancestry that doesn't betray her true age easily. But her tight budget is betrayed by the ramen noodles that were in her grocery sack today as she walked her dog past my house. My next door neighbor, who's also getting up there, but more well off, takes her where she needs to go when where she needs to go is beyond walking distance. That won't last much longer, though, because my neighbor is experiencing the early stages of Alzheimers Disease, and has already had a couple of minor fender benders.
Anna lives on a very tight budget. That much I know. I've gotten the skinny from my neighbor. She's on food stamps, and has a dog. That dog keeps her alive, and gets her outside everyday. She walks IT...and IT walks her. And together, they keep on keepin' on. Over the past 3 years, since I met her, I have given her a whole lot of produce from my gardens. She's like a goat...she eats just about everything. Today, as sad and as diminuitive as my garden is this year, I sent her home with about 7 pounds of tomatoes, 5 zucchini, a pint of raspberries and a handfull of fresh basil.
That's it. She said to me "thank you so much." It was genuine. Heartfelt, without being effusive. She knows when I have, I share, and when I don't have, there's nothing to share. I know, no matter what I give her, it will be used. What she can't eat fresh, she will freeze and use later.
Some of my more fortunate neighbors...I'm not so sure. They enjoy the gesture and the hospitality of offered garden surpluss, don't get me wrong. They are appreciative of a bag of tomatoes, but their appreciation is more along the lines of common civility.
I can tell they truly appreciate the gesture...but I'm not sure they truly appreciate the food. Anna does.
So does Cher. She's a 20 something single mom, with two beautiful daughters. She moved here from Belize about 4 years ago, and also lives in the apartments. When I had chickens, and was awash in eggs, I used to give her a dozen eggs every once in awhile. She walks past my house almost everyday with her daughters, at least when school is in. This summer, she doesn't come by quite so frequently, but still, I see them often. Her daughters are so polite and proper...they call me "Mr Keith"...not Keith. So does Cher, for that matter.
She's Black, and the first time I spoke to her I noticed something of an accent...not so much of an accent as a manner of speaking. Well, I guess that's an accent. But it wasn't like a drawl, or a Boston accent. It was more subtle than that. She finally told me she was from Central America, and I guessed, correctly, Belize. There aren't too many other Central American countries that have any significant populations of Blacks.
She walked by today, on the way home from the park where there's a pool that she takes her daughters to. As they walked by, I held up a plastic bag full of tomatatoes and called out to them..."Hey, Cher...Can you guys use some tomatoes?"
"We sure can!", she replied, and crossed the street to me. We chatted for a few minutes, and they were happy to get some fresh tomatoes. She's really a nice young lady, and her daughters are so well mannered and adorable.
There are a couple other people in the neighborhood that I have been able to give some tomatoes and raspberries to. One is another elderly lady, who lives alone, and the other is just another guy about my age who is from New York, originally...Italian...a local musician. He's just fun to talk to, and he absolutely loves tomatoes. He's a musician, and by his own admission he can't grow dandelions. But he grew up in Rochester, NY, and we talk and get along well. I just really like the guy...so he rates tomatoes, for sure.
It's taken my tomatoes a long time to ripen, and they only really started coming on the past 5 days. I won't get as many as I did last year, but I'll get more than I can use.
It's good to be able to give something to people who truly need it and appreciate it. And today I was able to do that with 3 neighbors who fit that description.
I call that a good day in the garden.