the man who lives across the street from me is known in the neighborhood as gardener bob. this moniker stems from the point that he is by passion and trade a gardener. in his backyard he has multiple raised mounds of dirt housing his various plants and through the spring and summer months he is often seen walking and crouching around and among these beds. to many in the neighborhood i am known as the porch guy. my moniker stems from the point that i (and my family) sit on the wide front porch of our home quite frequently in the mosquito-free periods of the year. from my long grey-painted porch i have a great, if not perfect, view into the world of gardener bob. on many occasions over the folded corner of a newspaper i have watched him for hours nurture and dote on his family of plants. mesmerizing is the only word i'd use to describe his manner, precision and focus while working.
most in the neighborhood don't care for gardener bob. he is not affable or friendly in a way people expect or hope for in a neighbor and his silent confidence makes most folks uneasy. i guess you could say he's the boo radley of the block. at dinner parties i've overheard people theorize about his mysterious ways. some say he's been institutionalized and that's why he can't get a real job. others suspect he has people buried under those raised beds of dirt and this is why his roses are so rich and tall. i've heard others say he is simply squatting on this house waiting for his 97 year old mother to die.
yes, his mother lives there too. it has been her house since before the last great war which makes it the house he grew up in as a child. the children who grew up in my house many years ago tell me that when they used to play sports in the street she would sit at a window overlooking their play and if a ball or frisbee landed in her wire-fenced yard, she would march out the back door, pick up the unfortunate item and wordlessly return indoors with the bauble tucked beneath her arm. legend has it there is one whole bedroom in that large home that holds all of these confiscated goods because no one has ever seen a single item re-emerge.
these days she doesn't come out so often. on sunny afternoons bob will open the garage and carry an old metal gliding bench into a spot in the sun where she will slowly come out to sit. to people passing by, the scene of an elderly lady in a house coat looking onto a beautifully landscaped yard seems quaint. it is only the the veterans of the street that know she's really just waiting for a wayward or wind-caught toy to land on her grass.
marty and i would talk to June, the mother. she was pleasant but repeated things often and referenced people we had never seen. she'd say stuff like, "johnny just went to the market because we heard the watermelons were good right now." when we first moved in she had a dog. while it doesn't seem plausible, i think the dog was older than June, and that's even in people years, because he was in even worse condition than she was. she'd carry the small animal out cradled in her frail arm about three or four times a day, walk into the middle of the yard and set him on the grass using a matted-bundle of hair on his back that over time took the form of an actual suitcase handle. the moment she let go of this bound tuft of hair the dog would tip over on its side. she wouldn't notice this for a few seconds but when she did she'd yell at the sad creature, "oh, now stop being lazy and get up and do your business." here while still laying on its side, the dog would urinate, the weak liquid not quite clearing its frame. she would then pick him back up and return to her bench where she would absentmindedly stroke its head as she looked about. the dog was only part of June's routine for the first few months we lived in our house and i wouldn't be at all surprised to learn he is part of the fertilizer that makes bob's roses so tall.
probably the most lively moment across the street came from a scarecrow bob made to keep the squirrels out of his vegetables. in a green plastic lawn chair he set next to the raised beds, bob crafted a man in a mechanics jump suit, using an appropriately sized pumpkin for the head. he placed a scarf, glasses and hat on the drooping head and put an empty beer can in its gloved hand. from a distance it looked like a chicago bears fan who passed out at a pre-game tailgate party. after the creation of the dozing drunkard and on a morning marty and i were both reading on the porch, June came out to inspect the lawn. when she caught sight of this sleeping man her stance changed. after a few seconds we heard her call, "hey! you! get out of my yard." when he didn't move she slowly moved towards him repeating her bold instructions. soon she was close enough to touch him and did just that. she pushed the rotund fellow in the shoulder and told him to move on and he was sitting on private property and she wouldn't hesitate to call the authorities. marty and i looked at one another. i said, "i went last week when she was dragging her glider into the garage, so you're up." marty slowly approached June and with a light hand on her shoulder caught her attention to explain that the man wasn't real. marty even lifted the head off the body to demonstrate. i could see June flinch from my seat across the pavement. by the time marty was done, June laughed off her mistake and went back to her teal glider. but hours later she was again confronting the strange, silent brute. this went on for many weeks. another neighbor lady who also took in this scene felt so sad for June's repeated confusion that she approached bob. in a most polite and soft way she explained what was happening and suggested bob figure out some other way to protect his crops. without ever looking the well appointed lady in the face, bob took in her suggestion and replied in a way that, for bob, was longwinded and involved more discourse than he'd given most others in the neighborhood when he told her to go screw herself.
a week or so later the jump-suited scarecrow vanished. and about a year after that June passed away. gardener bob still lives in this house but his backyard ballet doesn't happen with the same frequency which somedays leads me to believe he did much of this maintenance for his mother. and while many people are still critical of bob and accuse him of house-squatting or free-loading i don't think there is a detractor in the bunch who would have had the patience or diligence to care for a forgetful stealer of children's toys for an unknowable length of time in the way this methodical and quiet grower of flowers did.