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My Weekly Post

The Angels Among Us

Debbie's work -- John fixed the fence
I believe in angels. Not the kind with wings but ordinary people who are with us all the time and happen to be there at the right time, when the need is greatest. As I’ve been struggling a bit with the side effects of Lyme Disease (I’ve had it now for ten years, some years I don’t have it as badly as other years but this year has been particularly troublesome), I find it’s more difficult to do things in the garden. One of the symptoms that came on me from the very start was a difficulty bending my knees. When I first had Lyme, I remember saying that it was as if someone snuck in overnight and wrapped duct tape around my knees. One of my favorite postures in the garden has always been what I call a Gandhi squat. I could sit like that for hours, waddling about when I needed to move around the patch but there didn’t ever seem a reason to rise until all the weeds had been pulled. Another description I gave was that, in playing tennis, it seemed like I had suddenly been given two wooden legs. I’d run stiff-legged, which is hardly the way to play tennis. Warm water therapy has abated this and that symptom has left me but I’ve never again been able to get into my squat. I can only pull weeds bending over and, since my back has been painful these past months, the weeds have been growing, which hurts more than anything else. I wrote in my Yankee column this month about a fellow named Pearse who came along late last summer and made a preemptive strike through the garden which helped but it really only scratched the surface. And this spring, of course, everything started up again with a vengeance. I have something called Bishop’s Weed, Lord only know where it got its name, but it’s every bit as invasive as bittersweet, which has strangled more than one tree on this property, or the beautiful temptress, Purple Loosestrife. Bishop’s Weed has obliterated many of the gardens Mary kept – I didn’t choose to keep all her gardens as I knew from the start that they were beyond my limitations but in the ones I did keep, I am constantly battling this strangely named weed. I’m more likely to call it Devil’s Weed.

So I have had to come to terms with some of these issues. I travel frequently for my work and I have these new physical limitations. I’m always looking for help but really can’t afford much. This combination means I have to be content that things don’t look perfect. Well, let’s not even use that word. Things here are comfortable looking, I guess that’s what someone would say if someone were trying to be polite.

So this spring, two angels, one right after the other, appeared on my horizon. The first one was a man who once worked at our post office. I remembered John as bright, cheerful, and helpful. I knew he had two sons because I would sometimes run into him in Peterborough, the boys in tow. Our post office seems to operate like a Catholic Diocese as we get used to one postmaster and suddenly they are gone and someone else has replaced them. Such was the case with John. Years passed and then one day I ran into him at the local natural food store. “Hello there 112!” he said without pause. That is my box number. I was impressed by his memory. We chatted there at the organic meat counter and he allowed that he had been diagnosed with ALS and had to leave his job at the p.o. But, he said, he likes to work and tries to stay active to keep his symptoms at bay. As well, his teenage sons are always needing things like cars or cash. He asked if I had any work I would like him to do. Is the Pope Catholic?

So John came to work for me, a few hours was all he could do in a day but in those hours, he worked hard. There wasn’t anything I asked him to do that he wouldn’t do, shoveling snow in the late spring and then raking the gardens. Spreading compost. Putting a new coat of varnish on the kitchen floor. He told me he liked to organize things so I set him to work on my garage which hadn’t really been tackled since I moved here. He spent two days sorting and arranging, carting things to the dumps and setting questionable things aside. My garage now looks (almost) like a picture book image and I can find just about anything that I need at a glance. He also helped me wash the windows inside and out, which hasn’t been done in several years. For a couple of days, I couldn’t get used to the brightness as I walked into my kitchen. He didn’t charge me very much for his work and his presence was something that I looked forward to. (He loved to talk.) Eventually, he found a job painting which was within walking distance of his house but having John get me caught up on spring chores around here was nothing if not a visitation from above.

The week that he left, Debbie, another angel, swooped in. A few years ago, Debbie survived a near-death experience with an E Coli infection. As she was recovering, she found that gardening was her savior. She once owned a nursery so she was well acquainted with the things that grow around here – and the things that ought not to grow. She didn’t have many gardens of her own but she noticed that her neighbor down the road had some lovely new gardens. She offered to help. That neighbor happened to be a friend of mine. One thing led to another and now she offered to help in my gardens as well. She came with her gardening tools and set to work on my favorite garden, visible from several of my windows – peonies, lilies, hollyhocks are most dominant. And the bird bath. Some of my peonies come from friends and family members and when I have moved, they have moved with me. It was painful to see the Bishop’s Weed get a grip in this one garden where it had not yet taken root. Debbie arrived here like a warrior, pruning shears in her pocket, sun hat firmly in place, gloves and trowels at the ready. She came to my gardens early in the morning and sometimes worked until dark. I would call it a siege as she set about the job at hand, quietly, steadily removing the disease, edging, flinging the weeds into the wheelbarrow and carting them to the pile on the other side of the stonewall where I dump garden waste. Sometimes I didn’t know she was there until she raised her head above the tall weeds, which were slowly vanishing.

One day, she suddenly realized the damage the bittersweet was doing all around, choking one of my lilacs, pulling the branches of my old apple tree to the ground. She stopped work in the flowers and attacked the bittersweet, fiercely offended by its presence. She severed it at the root and yanked the tendrils down from their grip. This was something I used to do semi-annually but it's been more than a year since it's been done. When she left, the compost pile had risen to, quite literally, scalable heights, a mountain of destroyed bittersweet in the pile beyond the wall. If she took it all personally, she also felt the victory just as deeply.

Debbie would not accept any money for what she was doing. She called it her therapy. I gave her other gifts but none so valuable as what she did to my gardens, rescuing them from their near-death experience and bringing them life, light, water, and love. So, for reasons I cannot explain, the angels have been with me this spring. What I find so hard to believe is that these two people, with limitations far greater than mine, came to help. In this world, inspiration and the opportunity for gratitude are set before us far more often than we realize.
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