THE AUTUMN OF THE YEAR

But Now The Days Are Short, Rich Paschall

HEADER-Friday-AtteanView_01

When I was seventeen, it was a very good year…

When I turned seventeen, I had finished my Junior year in high school and was looking forward to Senior year at a new school.  It was a bit scary, I admit.  No one wants to leave his mates behind and start again, but that was my fate, not my choice.  At least the new school was in the neighborhood, and I already knew a few students who were going there.  Although we did not admit at the time, the final year of high school put many new thoughts into our heads.

You may think sex or sexual orientation, but those thoughts had already arrived years earlier.  All the passing of a few years meant was that these thoughts and curiosities intensified.  As you might imagine, a few of the boys and girls were a little more advanced than the others.  I think that stands out to you a little more at seventeen.

The new school brought new friends, new interests and new teachers.  There were subjects and activities the other school lacked.  The final high school year also proved to be, as I suspect it did for many of my friends, one of the best years of my life.  Some of those friends and those memories stayed with me over the decades.  I had no idea then that it would be the “best of times.”

When I was twenty-one, it was a very good year…

Four years later, brought a similar situation.  It was time to move on to Senior year of university and hopefully finish my degree on time (I didn’t).  It did not hold the lasting thrills of 17, but it did seem in a certain way to represent the transition to adulthood.  In reality I was no more adult than at 20 or twenty-two.  It was just a symbolic thing.  The “coming of age” also allows you to drink legally, but that did not mean too much. I was days, weeks or months older than the friends I hung around with so it is not like we all headed off to some bar.  Still, the year seemed to hold a certain energy that young adulthood will give you if you let it.

When I was thirty-five, it was a very good year…

I had finally earned my Masters Degree.  It was not about career advancement.  It was about reaching a goal I had set years earlier.  I sometimes studied for the Comprehensive exams with a woman in her 70’s.  She was pretty much doing the same thing, reaching for a past dream.  I could tell her of courses I had and of books I read, and she pushed me to study things I was certain would never be on the Masters exam again.  She was right about the exam questions and perhaps the reason we both marched up to receive our diplomas on the same day.

It felt like I had hit my stride at 35, although I can not really point to other reasons why.  If you have good friends, good times, and a reason for doing things, all seems right with the world.  Well, almost all seemed right.  I did not find the one right person to share my very good years.  Honestly, I can not say I looked all that hard.  I guess I was having too good of a time.

But now the days are short, I’m in the autumn of the year…

One thing that you become acutely aware of as you get older is that the days are short.  They don’t seem to last as long as the days of youth, you don’t seem to get as much done and you certainly don’t feel thirty-five.  You realize, no matter how desperately you try to suppress the thought, that the days are indeed numbered.  Even if you are optimistically believing that there are, let’s say, thirty-five years left, you know none will be like the year you were thirty-five.  With any luck at all some will still be very good years.

If your life is like a fine wine, there will be many years that are a good vintage.  Wine aficionados will refer to this as a “very good year.”  I hope to still have them.  None are 17 or 21 or 35, nor will they be again.  With any luck at all, however, I will be able to drink in the rest and enjoy them as if I were sitting in a vineyard in France with one of my best friends while we recall our great adventures together.

And I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs,
From the brim to the dregs,
It poured sweet and clear.
It was a very good year.

Although many had recorded this song, it won the Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male, in 1966 for Frank Sinatra.

It Was A Very Good Year, by Ervin Drake, 1961, lyrics © SONGWRITERS GUILD OF AMERICA OBO LINDABET MUSIC INC

A NOT SO SUPER MARKET TRIP

A Day at the “Zoo,” by Rich Paschall


Let’s start out with a sweeping generalization, shall we? Most guys do not like to spend a lot of time in the grocery store.  I know generalizations are a bad thing … generally … but we seem to be in an era of generalizations, so let’s proceed.

Do you know many guys who want to wander up and down the aisles with you?

When my mother was getting older, she was often looking to be taken to the store.  This happy duty usually came my way.  After she recovered from a stroke, it always came my way.  She was unable to go it alone.  At first we would go slowly up and down all of the aisles, and I do mean all the aisles of the Jewel (you may know them as Albertson’s).  As it became more difficult, we would go down the first aisle, along the back and down the last aisle.  Then I would get sent down each aisle in search of items that may or may not be there.  I guess it was good exercise for us both, in different ways.  That doesn’t mean I liked it any.

At one time, I had a room-mate who loved to go up and down each aisle.  I hated these trips.  He had to stop and discover things along the way.  I never saw a trip to the store as a treasure hunt.  I have items in mind.  I like to get them and go.  That does not mean I will not get sucked into an impulse buy like many others, but I try to keep that at a minimum.

Carts


It is sad to see shopping carts all over the parking lot, especially if that means there are none inside.  You might think that a large supermarket chain could employ enough teenagers to keep the lots clear.  It is not always the case, and stray carts can really be a hazard.  None of this has to be.

 

The German supermarket chain, Aldi, has solved the cart problem.  They are all chained together at the entrance.  If you put a quarter in the first one, it releases the chain but holds the quarter.  When you return the cart and insert the link from another cart, your quarter comes back to you.  This means there are no carts rolling around the lot, no teenagers banging them into your car, and no lack of carts at the entrance.  It is amazing that the quarter will inspire you to bring the cart back.

Handicapped parking spots


One of the things that annoys me the most about these trips is the abuse of handicapped parking.  Before I even get in the store, I have spotted one or more people using a handicapped spot who clearly did not need it.  Maybe you have your mother’s handicapped parking card in the car with you, that does not give you the right to use it when dear old mom is at home reading the supermarket tabloids.  If it is not yours, don’t use it.

There are times when the handicapped person is with someone, but has no intention of getting out of the car on a short stop.  That means the car can be parked anywhere.  Do not deprive someone of a close spot who really needs it.  The high fines do not seem to deter anyone here as the police are reluctant to go onto private property to enforce the rules.

Promotional giveaways


From the time my mother retired until the time she could no longer do it, she did part-time work for one of those companies that give away promotional items in stores.  This is especially prevalent on weekends when the “samples” ladies are handing out all kinds of little goodies for your trip.  The real purpose is to entice you into buying something you would likely pass by.  I do not think they ever offered me something I bought, and they slow down my quick exit to the checkout.

Stock the shelves


Okay, I get it.  You can run out of items on a shelf mid-morning on a Saturday and need to restock something.  Nevertheless, I never understand why there is a large skid blocking an entire aisle I wish to go down.  It is as if they have waited to spring this trap on some of us who were not otherwise willing to wonder around the back of the store.

Price check


In this day of modern technology, is there anything more annoying than getting to the checkout and your item does not scan.  “Price check on aisle 3” is the last thing I want to hear if I am already in aisle 3.  This generally means some reluctant teenager named Josh or Jason or Justin will show up to see the item and then set off on his own treasure hunt to find another and the price.

With any luck at all he will return quickly or call with the price.  This is the sort of thing that makes me grab a Slim Jim (some sort of beef and chemical stick) and throw it on my pile so I can eat it on the way home.

Bag it


Does a little Bagging 101 course seem to be needed by those in your supermarket who put your items in a bag?  It is not that I don’t want the warm items, if I buy any, put in with the frozen items, but I don’t.  Food goes with food, non-food items together, cold together, warm together.  Distribute the weight.  It is not rocket science, even for a gum chewing teen.

One of the laws passed here is you bring your own bag or pay the 7 cent tax per bag.  This is good and reduces waste.  I always bring enough bags, so I am never pleased when the bagger puts lots of cans and bottles in one, light items in another, and hands me back empty bags they did not use.  It means I re-bag the items when I get to my car.

Next week


Do I have to go again?

OKTOBERFEST, THE PEOPLE’S FAIR – RICH PASCHALL

The meaning of the annual celebration, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

German-American Festival, Chicago

German-American Festival, Chicago. It seems every community wants to have an Oktoberfest.  It doesn’t matter if they have any idea what the Oktoberfest actually is.  They just want to have one.  Perhaps some think if they have enough music and beer, then they have a Fest.  Our community is no exception.  Chicago’s largest ethnic group is German-American so we think we know how to have a Fest.  As street festivals go, it is pretty good.  It is not an Oktoberfest like you would find in Germany.

Some of my friends have the Oktoberfest in Munich on their Bucket List.  They think I should want to be a party to this too.  The older I get, the worse this idea actually sounds.  For those who don’t know, around six million visitors show up for the 17 to 19 day festival.  If you do not have a reservation in advance, you are not likely to get into one of the crowded beer halls.  In fact, huge crowds of beer drinkers can get rather unhappy if they run out of beer, as happened at the 200th anniversary in 2010.
The Bavarian festival began in October 1810 when Crown Prince Ludwig got married and invited the people of Bavaria to join in the celebration on the field in front of the city gate at Munich.  The celebration was held somewhat annually and eventually lengthened.  It’s beginning was moved into September and ended with the first weekend in October.  So in many ways this “Volksfest” is more of a September event.  If the 3rd (German Unity Day) falls on a Monday or Tuesday, the event gets extended to include that date.

Stuttgart, Germany

Stuttgart, Germany

Contrary to what many may now think, the event was not always held.  Twenty four fall seasons saw no festival because of cholera, or war, or hard economic times.  But most years the autumnal celebrations go on around Germany and tourists flock to the carnival like events.  For those who like to wander the grounds or can not get into a hall, the outside areas now include rides, food booths and beer booths.  You might find a seat outside, but the fall weather is not always accommodating.

Cannstatter Volksfest

Cannstatter Volksfest

One year a friend who lives in France tried to organize a trip to the Munich Oktoberfest, but the reality is you must plan a year in advance in order to get in.  So we made the best decision we could have made.  Together we went to the second largest German Fest which is held in Stuttgart, Cannstatter Volksfest.  Yes, it was crowded and the weather was not the best, but we got into beer halls, drank and ate with people from around the world, stood on our benches and sang songs we barely knew.  It could not have been better.

Like many European cities, the public transportation in Stuttgart is excellent.  Although we were not particularly close to the fair grounds, we took the train and got off right at the entrance to the festival.  When we left, we found an old German sitting across from us on the train.  Since there are many beer halls featuring a different beer each, my friend asked the gentlemen what is the best beer in Germany.  “Frei bier,” he exclaimed.  That will remain one of our favorite travel moments.  We repeat it often.

Perhaps the best part of the adventure was sharing in the fun with one of my best friends.  Yes, we seem to have fun wherever our journeys take us, but we would not have found an atmosphere quite like that Oktoberfest anywhere else in the world.

Note:  Click on the Stuttgart picture for a larger version of the fair grounds.  We did walk around in the rain, just like everyone else.

CLOSE TO HOME TOO

Matthiessen State Park day trip, by Rich Paschall


When you are heading out on your Day Trip, you may wish to take a long a few provisions.  On our recent trip, my friend and I took a small flexible cooler with some water and flavored water.   Then we dropped into the pockets some granola bars, chewy bars of something and some small pieces of chocolate or something.  They were just quick snacks.  If you plan to visit some picnic grounds, it is a bigger production and you should plan in advance and start earlier.  We are not so organized so our lunch was at the concession stand and our dinner was at Culver’s on the way home.

Our main goal of the day trip was Starved Rock State Park.  This spot is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Illinois and rival’s Chicago’s Navy Pier in surveys of the best places to visit.  This may seem a bit odd to those outside the state who know of Chicago only.  We must do a lot of state park advertising in neighboring states.

After our view from the top of the famous rock, my travel companion was interested in heading down into the canyon and seeing at least one of the waterfalls. I confess that I was totally unaware of the next stop of the day.  It is not as well-known.

Just a few miles south of Starved Rock State Park is Matthiessen State Park.  I did not want to disappoint my friend on his quest to find an Illinois waterfall, so we took the short drive down Illinois State Route 178 and found the entrance to this wonderland of flora and fauna.

French fort

Frederick William Matthiessen had acquired 176 acres of land here in the late 1800s where he built the private Deer Park.  In it he constructed trails, stairs, bridges, and dams.  The private buildings of his estate are gone now, perhaps a sad decision, but the park does contain a reconstruction of a fort like the ones the French built in the 1600s.  After Matthiessen’s death the land was donated to the state.  Additional land was acquired and the park is now a sprawling 1700 acres.

Going down

A peek at our destination.

The fort marks the beginning of the hiking trails that will lead you down into the canyons.  The trails are well-marked and you will not get lost, even though there are many choices along the way.  There are two waterfalls you may wish to see in the upper and lower dells.  I guess we chose the closer one in deference to my considerably slower pace.   You can head up the trail to Matthiessen Lake and Lake Falls or down into the canyon and the “wishing well” and Cascade Falls.

Above the falls

We had already gone down a long way when we got the view of Cascade Falls from above.  We could see some hardy souls had made the descent, and we decided to head down the trail until we found the stair way that would take us the rest of the way down.

Sandstone walls

A stream runs from Lake Matthiessen down to Vermilion River.  Over the centuries a waterway carved out the canyon revealing the sandstone walls.  The minerals in the water have added to the coloring of the sandstone. The mineral springs on the land are also an attraction for the large deer population.

We followed the stream through the canyon until we decided the only safe route was not through slippery paths and mud, but along the stream.  We took off our shoes and socks and wondered  on our way.  We saw others trying not to get mud on their shoes, without much success.  You would have to cross water to get to the falls.  After the long trip down, we were going to make it all the way.

Cascade Falls

OK, it is no Niagara Falls, but it is hidden in a canyon and unique to our state.  It was a wonderful exploration of what nature can offer us here.  We were pleased with the pleasant nature trails and the variety of plants and trees to be seen.

The state park also has horse back riding trails, biking trails, an archery range and large picnic grounds.  It is a great place for family and friends to enjoy nature.

Late Afternoon sun on the canyon walls

Because of its proximity to Plum Island sanctuary, you may be lucky enough to spot a bald eagle here in late fall and winter.  I was lucky enough to share this adventure with a good friend, and that is all that really matters to me.  Get out on a day trip with friends and enjoy the world around you.

Related: CLOSE TO HOME, Day Trip

DECEMBER BOYS (2007) DANIEL RADCLIFFE – RICH PASCHALL

DECEMBER BOYS (2007)


Movie Review, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

You probably missed it in the theater.  Daniel Radcliffe stars in this independent production at the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon.  The Australian made film found a big name distributor for the USA and Canada, Warner Brothers.  Yes, the same mega movie studio that distributed Harry Potter.  If you were the producer of this little Australian project, you might have expected to hit the jackpot with Radcliffe’s star power, plus one of the biggest movie distributors in the world.  You would have been wrong.

Distributor: Warner Independent

Distributor: Warner Independent

Filmed down under in 2006, December Boys is based on the novel of the same name.  The setting was moved up from the 1930s to the 1960s and is told as a flashback, as it was in the book.  This allows the ending to be brought up to modern times. The boys are orphans at a Catholic institution.  Four boys (five in the novel) share December birthdays. Each is given a gift of a Christmas holiday at a large beachfront home.

Radcliffe, a teenager at the time, is the oldest of the boys, known as Maps.  The other three, Spit, Spark (or Sparks, the film is unclear) and Misty are younger boys of about the same age.  Misty is the narrator.

For Radcliffe, this is a coming of age story.  He meets a girl who is a bit of a wild child and through the course of the movie you will see Radcliffe smoke, drink and, well, if you don’t know what they were doing in that cave, you were never a teenager.  Later, Maps dismisses an inquiry by one of the younger boys about that mark on his neck.

The home of the older couple who hosts the boys’ holiday introduces the element of health problems of one of the adults.  It’s a bit of a sad sidetrack to a storyline filled with side tracks.  There is also an old fisherman at the sea trying to catch some elusive large fish.  Naturally one of the boys get caught in that story line.

Then there’s the young couple who fail to conceive a child.  When the young husband tells the priest from the orphanage they are having trouble getting pregnant, you know what the priest will suggest.  Misty overhears and determines to be the one adopted. Eventually he tells the priest he was eavesdropping. The other boys force him to spill the story.  Then the little ones try to be model citizens, while Maps knows an older boy will never be adopted.

There are plenty of hi-jinks for the boys.  The young man pushing the adoption with his wife owns a motorcycle and gives the younger boys rides along the beach.  Misty goes in the water and nearly drowns and our hero comes to the rescue. Do I have to tell you who?  There is disappointment and heartbreak in store. Throughout, the single thing the boys share is the only family they know, each other.

In addition to various goofs, some of the symbolism is confusing. And unnecessary.  A dark stallion periodically appears, symbolizing something, but I’m not sure what. Misty has “visions” of the future — nuns and the Virgin Mary.  It works having Misty picture the future through an empty frame; the rest doesn’t work. Boomers may find the out-of-time 1970s songs jarring.

Radcliffe wasn’t paid a big salary to make the movie.  He probably wanted a chance to be someone other than Harry Potter.  The character of Lucy, with whom Maps has a relationship, was not in the novel.  Perhaps this intrigued Radcliffe. Perhaps it worried Warner Brothers.

When the film opened in September of 2007, it had staggered release dates for Sydney, Melbourne, and London, most likely so Radcliffe could attend. When Warner Brother opened it as a “limited release” in the US, it was on four screens the first week, eight the next, and 13 next. After which it more or less disappeared. Not exactly a grand opening for a boy known round the world. Of course, the boy was known for a specific role and Warner Brothers wanted to keep it that way, at least to the degree they could control it.

It didn’t make much money. Of course. In the U.S., it grossed about $100,000 during its three-week release in September 2007. The film cost an estimated $4 million and grossed around a million dollars (U.S. and Australia) during its theatrical release. It’s currently available as a digital download from Amazon, and on used DVD.

December Boys got mixed reviews. The confusion of the story lines mixed together was criticized.  Immortal film critic Roger Ebert said, “There seem to be two movies going on here at the same time, and “December Boys” would have been better off going all the way with one of them.”  One thing critics agreed on: young Daniel could play someone other than Harry Potter.

The “coming of age” story with Lucy and Maps was created for the big screen. Perhaps therein lay some of the problem of plot development.  It might have been better to skip the extra plot and have Radcliffe play a boy who everyone looked up to, who came in to save the day when there was trouble for any of the other characters.

Oh wait, he was already doing that. Rather successfully too.

DON’T TAKE THE BAIT – RICH PASCHALL

Keep Right On Going, by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog


If you are a fisherman, and perhaps even if you are not, you can understand the frustration that comes with the sport. That is, you go out knowing fish are swimming all around you. Maybe a lot of them and you are ready to reel them in.  You bait the hook and drop it in amongst all those lovely fish and you wait … and wait. Nothing happens.  It is as if Charlie Tuna or some holy mackerel was there, warning off all the others to avoid your bait.

“This is good bait,” you may think.  “It is big and tempting and the sea creatures should flock to it,” but they just smirk and swim off to visit other old timers to see if their little fishes are off in schools somewhere else.

Avoid the bait

This is how we should be too.  We should stop taking the bait, but sometimes we do anyway. The consternation begins.  I am talking about social media and social conversation.  There is always someone lobbing bait in the water. It’s up to us to keep swimming.  No good comes from getting hooked.

It would appear that many throw out the bait on Facebook or Twitter — or whatever platform they prefer — knowing they will start an argument amongst friends and acquaintances.  In this politically charged “us versus them” environment fostered and encouraged by 45 and his ilk, there are always those waiting for someone to take the bait. Their posts can be filled with political arguments.  None are worthy of the time, but some play it like a sport.  It is almost like taking your boat out on Lake Michigan hoping to land a big one.  You are likely to end up with carp or alewives, of course.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Whether you are posting something in favor of POTUS or against, there is someone ready to take the bait and tug on the line.  While an astounding number of people are not in favor of the current pretender to the throne, he still has some rabid supporters who are willing to dangle the bait or take it themselves and the battle is on.  These battles of back and forth with the fish can get rather rowdy and sometimes Facebook or whoever has to step in and stop the battle from going on.

Soon after the terrible display of hate in Charlottesville, I posted a brief piece I saw about how the USA helped defeat the Nazis in World War 2.  I thought it was important to remember (or to learn) what that was all about.  I know exactly what my parents would have thought of recent events.  My father fought in World War II.  It is terrible, in my opinion, that people would carry the Nazi flags on our streets after the 1940’s but perhaps some forgot.  I had no idea I was dangling bait for the alt-right.

What followed my post was a long series of comments by a few people who conducted a mean-spirited, name-calling “debate.”  I could not keep up with it or monitor the frequent comments, which apparently turned threatening.  After someone complained, Facebook stepped in and removed the most egregious comments.  At my first opportunity, I removed the post completely.  History really is not debatable nor is it worth threatening someone, but that’s the road we’ve gone down.

Due to my stance on some topics, or my willingness to take the bait on a few occasions, I guess I have lost a few friends.  I can’t say it really bothers me.  If you are that bigoted, whether your opinion is based on some misinterpretation of history or the Bible or some other religion, I guess it’s best I swim on by. I’m too old to have this stress in my life.  Be careful. You never know when some fish might pull you into the water.

Until recently, I used to get together a few times a month with someone I have known since childhood. He’s a bit right of center politically, but we had mostly avoided political arguments. That changed in the current social climate. He has taken to dangling bait.  I was playing along for a while, but I now see the futility of this endeavor.

It will start with my friend saying something about 45 or other right-wing topic.  I might respond, “As a former military man, how do you feel about 45 making comments about North Korea that also seem to give up military secrets?”  It is a reasonable question, I think, but it only proves that I have taken the bait.

“What about Obama?” he might reply.  “You never said anything about Obama when he was in office.”

“Yes I did,” I usually point out.

“I never heard it.”

“You never listen to my side.”

“And what about Rahm (Emanuel, Mayor of Chicago)? What about that?” He will say in a voice somewhat louder.

“What does this have to do with 45 and North Korea?” I may inquire to try to steer the conversation back around, but it’s too late.  I am already on the line.

THE GARDEN BY THE FENCE

The Last Plant, by Rich Paschall


Every spring and summer for many years, decades in fact, Mr. Jardin had spent weekday evenings and all day Saturday or Sunday tending to his yard and garden.  With such a large area to manage, Mr. Jardin found the work to be a full-time job, in addition to his full-time job.

The yard was bigger than most in the area and there was a long garden down one side with a vast variety of plants.  Along the other side ran a sidewalk, but Mr. Jardin found just enough room between the walk and the neighbor’s fence for a row of lilies of the valley.  The flowers did not last long, but the large green leaves were there all season.

Beyond the back fence near to the alley was a cement slab where Mr. Jardin often parked his car.  Along a fence on the side of his cement parking space, and all the way to his back fence, were more flowers and plants that needed attention.  As the years went on, the gardener had to choose which sections to work each week.  The idea of working from one end to another in one day was no longer possible.  He was slowing down, and he knew it.

This particular year, Mr. Jardin could be found near the back fence every evening after work and often on weekends too.  He could never seem to get everything under control, so each day he took his carrying case with the garden tools and a plastic bag for the weeds that were pulled or plants that were trimmed and headed to the same spots.  Sometimes he brought a little garden bench with him.  It was the kind you could turn over and kneel on.  When turned over, you could use the legs on either side to help get up.  Mr. Jardin needed that some days.

Most evenings this season a woman came walking down the alley and passed by Mr. Jardin’s garden.  Sometimes she was carrying plants, sometimes a shopping bag.  If she caught the attention of the gardener by the alley, she would smile and nod and continue on her way.  It seemed odd that she would come down the alley as it could not possibly be a short cut from anywhere.  The gardener did not give it much of a thought.  He was focused on the flowers and plants, weeds and grass.

One day, the alley lady stopped and watched Mr. Jardin at work.  When he finally noticed her she complemented him on all the nice flowers.  He smiled and nodded politely and she was off to wherever the alley lady goes.  For the next few days, the woman found a comment to make about the flowers as she passed and Mr. Jardin always expressed his thanks.

Then one warm evening in early summer, the alley woman stopped as usual and when she got the gardener’s attention, she said, “My name is Mary, by the way.  Actually Marylou, but I never liked that.  You can just call me Mary.”  The gardener’s had a big smile in return for her.  She was an ordinary looking woman, much younger than Mr. Jardin but still middle-aged, so he thought it interesting that she would want to have a conversation with him.  She wore a wide-brimmed hat that would seem perfect for summer gardening.  Her long brown hair was tucked up inside.

“I’m Mr. Jardin,” stated the amateur garden master.  Seeing her disappointment at a formal introduction, he quickly added, “Roger Jardin.  I guess you can just call me Roger.”  He was not much for socializing, so even at his age he was not comfortable with introductions and conversation.

For the next few nights Mary stopped to talk to Roger on her way from wherever it was that led her to the alley, and Roger always made a little time in his important weed pulling duties to say a few words.  Then Mary surprised Roger with an invitation.  “Perhaps you would like to come over for dinner some evening,” she stated with an inviting smile.

“Oh, uh…why?” a confused Roger replied.  Mary laughed a little.

“Well, because I thought you might be hungry enough some evening to come over.  You can not work out here every night.”  Roger actually thought he could work out there every evening until it was too dark, unless the rains came.  The alley pair decided on a date in two days because rain was predicted.  Mary explained she lived around the corner in an apartment building. They made a date.

Roger was right on time.  The two had a pleasant dinner and a nice chat.  “That must be a lot of work, planting all of those flowers,” Mary commented.  Her interest in the garden pleased Roger.

“I do not actually plant anything anymore, except for one tomato plant near to the house.  The others are perennials or volunteers.”

“Volunteers?” Mary was unclear what Roger meant.

“There are flowers that come up because of seeds dropped by last year’s flowers.  It is almost as if they were perennials.  Other seeds might come on the wind or from the birds.  I don’t plant.  I just pull.”

Mary stopped by the alley often in the weeks that followed to comment on the hard work of the garden, and Roger always smiled and said nice things to Mary in return.

One day Mary walked by and found Roger lying in the garden.  She called out his name, but there was no response.  She went right up to him to him and called out loudly, “Roger!” but there still was no response.  She poked at him, but he was lifeless.  She shook her head and said to herself, “I knew he was working too hard, especially for a man of his age.”

At that she picked one of the long-stemmed yellow flowers she had admired so much, turned around, and headed home.