The Garden of Age

I have to be careful here –I don’t want to sound cerebrally damaged, or as if I’ve just escaped from a special-care Home- but I love Age. The leisure to perambulate at will through the overgrown garden of my life; the time to wander along unsuspected paths unencumbered by youthful boundaries; to sit where I will, and sample what I choose –these are the autumn fruits that Age lays before those who choose to walk the meadow.

And although I realize my life has been no more special than the rest, it has always seemed special to me. Unique. Memorable. And given the chance, I would not change it –although I wouldn’t mind being a little taller. A bit more talented… Oh yes, and the glasses… I would not choose to be chained to them from childhood again, thank you. But those peccadillos aside, I am content.

Swept up in this epiphany of Age, and consumed with a secular sort of Agape, I happened upon Brien sitting morosely on his porch. How long he had been staring at the tree in his front yard I couldn’t tell from the sidewalk, but the plate of cookies on the table beside him was largely empty, and so were a few bottles of beer that lay conspicuously on their sides. It was a warm autumn afternoon so he was in no danger of hypothermia; ennui seemed a greater risk, so I waved and invited myself up his steps.

“What trouble are you going to try to cause for me today?” He said before I even sat down.

“Only a wander through the garden,” I said, filled with my vision. It was a mistake.

“I don’t have a garden,” he grunted, and pointed at the tree. “Just old Sheda here.”

“Sheda?” My god he was starting to name stuff. Next thing it’d be his porch and then maybe the garbage… Caught off guard, I must have hit him with my eyes.

He felt the blow. “Yeah, I decided the way to get to know things better was to name them. By the way, you’re sitting on Florence,” he added. Fortunately, he pointed at the deck of the porch so I was safe on the chair. “Made a world of difference, too,” he added, after giving it some thought.

I have to admit that I did scrunch my face up a little when he said that. You never know whether he’s serious or letting slip a little unguarded cognitive dissonance. I decided to take the middle ground. “Stuff to talk to, you mean?” It’s always easier to talk to something with a name.

A big, surprised smile suddenly surfaced on his face and he nodded his head quite vigorously. “You do that too?”

I ventured a tentative nod in reply, trying to let him know I understood, but at the same time not wishing to fertilize any ungerminated seeds of dementia. “Uhmm, I name some things I guess… sometimes… I mean if they’re alive and moving around… sort of.”

“I shouldn’t have named the porch, you mean?” He sounded hurt.

I shrugged to buy some time to think of something. “Well, I suppose it –she– serves a purpose, and it’s probably a useful thing to differentiate one purpose from another…” As soon as I said it, I realized it was weak, but Brien seemed to perk up at the idea.

“Never thought of it like that. I mean I could name the table, and maybe the cookies…”

We sat in silence for a while. “I’ve been thinking about Retirement, Brien,” I said, to change the subject as his hand inched carefully and slowly across the table towards an as-yet unnamed cookie.

“Again? What is it this time? Pensions? Rest Homes…?” He was about to name a few other topics when I held up my hand.

“Something new,” I said, but slowly, to build up the suspense. I have to say I was a little discomfited by his evident disparagement of past topics, though.

The smile on his face said it all: there was nothing new about Retirement.

“I have come to look upon my life so far as an overgrown garden!” I said, proudly.

I’m sure he could feel, if not actually see the exclamation mark, because he immediately sent his barn-swallow-eyes out to flit around my head. “Why a garden?” Epiphanies were wasted on him. So were metaphors, for that matter.

I shook my head to ward off the embarrassing reception my insight was being accorded.

“Think of it, Brien,” I managed to stammer. “Those things you tended and planted throughout the years, finally bearing fruit. Finally maturing for the autumn harvest…” I stared up at the sky as if I could see it manifest in the clouds. “Fruit that you can share with the world… Seeds that will grow, and spread throughout the…”

“You should name it, then.” he interrupted before I could expand even further on my vision.

I had to blink in surprise. “Pardon me?”

“Name the garden!” He rolled his now-captive eyes at my obtuseness, as if I hadn’t been listening. “The fruit probably already has a name,” he added for clarity.

I felt embarrassed for a moment. “It’s just an idea, Brien…”

“You figure it’s going to escape, though.” His expression suddenly turned serious, but of course he could have been trying to distract me from the cookie. “I think we really need to know what to call it -before the seeds spread everywhere, I mean.”

Sometimes it’s hard to tell when he’s just playing with me; I decided to join in. “Okay then…” I stalled for time. “How about I don’t know… Demeter, the Greek goddess of Harvest?”

He shook his head and grinned. “Where do you find this stuff?”

His stare made me uncomfortable. “Maybe I’ll try another name…”

He chuckled at the thought. “You’ll just make up another one I’ve never heard of.”

Now I knew he was toying with me. “Got a better name?”

“Matter of fact, I do.” He grabbed the cookie in a fit of pique and took a large bite out of it. “I was going to use it on the trash can, but it’s yours if you want.”

I tried not to look like a teacher who had lobbed a question at a kid sitting in the back row of the class. I pretended to look eager and thankful for the help. “And that would be…?”

“I was going to call it Pandora.” He sat back, and munched contentedly on the cookie.

Sometimes, I think Brien sits nearer to the front…


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