Something New Might Grow
Original Characters from I’m Making Mine and It Takes Time
From One Day at a Time and Other Stories Collection
A Renewal Story that brings together characters from previous short stories, deepening their personal journeys, and offering fresh hope to all our lives.
Imogene stood in her weed-riddled backyard and scowled in the warm May sunshine. With food prices skyrocketing, she wanted a vegetable garden worth something this year, but Carl’s health wasn’t getting any better, and her back used naughty words whenever she weeded the front flowerbed. Her gone-evil niece, Lucy, was in some hippy college out west, most certainly ruining her health with tofu and other vegan foolishness, which probably wasn’t as bad as the red dye put in the fancy cupcakes Imogene had offered to the Ladies Aid Society on Tuesday. She corralled her thoughts back to the problem at hand. How was she ever going to drag a productive garden from this disreputable piece of earth? She glanced skyward. “Any ideas, Lord? I’m listening.”
Ambling gingerly across the mole-hole yard, Carl grinned as he approached.
A shudder ran over Imogene’s short, heavyset frame. She could manage the annual church bake sale with both hands tied behind her back, but give her a family member or a friend’s problems to deal with—outside her husband, of course—and she’d be as good as hog-tied for the entire week. She scratched her head, her short gray hair staying resolutely in place.
“Hey, Sweetheart. I got news!”
Imogene stayed still, trying to keep dread from filling her. Surely if it was something terrible, Carl wouldn’t be smiling. But then, what he considered “news,” often left her breathless with apocalyptic visions. He was just so darn casual about everything. She tried to crack a return smile.
Huffing to a stop, be brandished a grin like a warrior ready to outfox demonic foes. The glint in his eyes said that he was enjoying himself, though he might unmake the world as you knew it. “Marge is coming to spend the weekend with us!”
Her mind blank, Imogene tried to recall who Marge was without letting on that she had no clue. Getting old was hell. “Oh? Well, that’s nice, Honey.”
Unexpectedly, Carl’s smile deepened. “She’s the one who lives on that spread up yonder in Sangamon County. Her husband passed away a couple of years ago—remember? A second cousin on my mom’s side…”
A vague image formed in Imogene’s mind from a nearly forgotten family get-together at a great uncle’s parish in Chicago. A city she couldn’t get out of fast enough, family connections or no. “That depressed woman who sat by herself through the whole reunion? Didn’t even try to guess during charades.”
All smiles gone, Carl shrugged, his expression softened to sadness. “Yeah. She was going through a lot. We didn’t talk about it much, but her man was a drinker. Not a mean one but sly and stupid. Got fired so many times we lost count. Died from liver failure. Ugly way to go.”
No memories rode in to rescue Imogene from all the questions bombarding her mind. “So why is she coming here? We’re not exactly counselors, Carl. If anything, we could use a morale-boosting vacation in Florida.”
A snort and Carl agreed through an accenting nod. Then, as he waved a languid hand toward the unkempt back acre, he got back to business. “She’s a gardener. Got her kids into it and even helped out a neighbor’s son who has started his own vegetable stand in town. Got a green thumb and no mistake.” He turned and stood shoulder to shoulder with his wife, facing the yard. “She can get us started, so we do it right from the get-go.”
Though Carl’s presentation sounded right-nice, a question nagged. “How old is Marge?”
“About your age. A bit taller maybe and keeps her hair in a bun, but you’ll like her. Practical, no-nonsense woman.”
Imogene wasn’t sure what to make of this turn of events. She was the most practical non-nonsense person on the planet. How could two such women work in the same garden for Heaven’s sake?
His message of deliverance given; Carl hitched his way back to the house. “I’ve got some PPJs for lunch. Want me to heat up some tomato soup?”
With a nod and a grunt, Imogene glared at the sky. Said I was listening. Didn’t say I’d agree.
Marge arrived, as scheduled, on Friday afternoon. Carl was right. A bit taller with a neat grey bun on the top of her head, she looked every inch a country woman with wisdom embedded in the pores of her skin.
Imogene’s left eye twitched. It did that after a prolonged visit from her niece or a during the annual church rummage sale. People wore her nerves thin, and that’s all there was to it.
Carl acted as the host and even made a delicious roast beef with potatoes and carrots for dinner. As they sat at the wooden kitchen table, he chatted away throughout the meal, asking about relatives near and far. He didn’t seem unduly disturbed to discover that several of their kin had crossed to the other side. He’d just nod and smile. Calm, casual. Unflappable. Lord, Imogene loved her husband though she could barely understand him.
She watched Marge with all the intensity of a cat considering a new arrival. She wouldn’t say too much until she knew exactly what she was facing. Clearly, the woman wasn’t as dramatic and attention-seeking as her niece, didn’t have the gooey-goodness of half the ladies she knew through volunteer service, and played neither a hero nor a victim. Not one word about her departed husband or her kids, except a quick update: Jon was working in the city and came by every couple of weeks to help out. Kelly was working close to home and dating a nice young man. They raised the meat birds together every summer on her back lot, selling the extras in the farmer’s market. Imogene’s mind swam with foggy, unformed images.
The evening passed quickly as Marge said she was tired from the drive and went to bed before the birds had finished their goodnight songs.
Happily, Carl made sure their guest had fresh bathroom towels and called it a night as well.
It wasn’t till Saturday morning that Marge seemed to come out of her shell. In fact, she was already outside working in the yard when Imogene went to the kitchen and poured her morning cup of coffee. Startled, holding the hot cup and peering through the bay window, she squinted at the figure dressed in old overalls grasping a hoe and whacking away at the earth, tufts of weeds flying through the air.
Imogene started for the door, remembered that she didn’t have shoes on, and retreated to her room where Carl snored in complacent morning slumber. She hurried through her get-the-day-started routine as fast as decently possible. Even her prayers were abbreviated to, “Lord, You better know what You’re doing.”
Once outside, the smell of fresh earth, the feel of warm sunshine, and the sound of birdsong stopped her in her tracks. She hung back a second and watched Marge work.
Swift, sure aim, and the hoe sliced through a section of compact earth. Weeds flew in an arc. The ground before Marge had been squared off, and she appeared to be working backward, forming a large rectangle.
Imogene’s body ached at the thought of trying to turn all the uncovered soil. A sigh erupted from her middle before she could stop it.
Marge stopped swinging and looked over. She rested the hoe on the ground and leaned on it, casual-like. Kin to Carl, most certainly.
Caught, Imogene had no choice but to amble up and offer a cup of coffee or a word of praise. Something. “You must have a strong back, Marge. I can hardly believe how much you’ve done already.” Unexpectedly, uncensored words tumbled out. “I’m more an indoor person, good at church activities, volunteer service, listening without reacting too much. Which is what kids need these days, isn’t it? At least, my niece…” Why on Earth was she going on like this?
Marge nodded, her sad eyes considering a dying apple tree across the way. “My back is not what it was. I asked my son to come over with his tiller this morning and go over what I outline, with your permission, of course.” She shrugged. “I figure that five tomato and pepper plants, a couple of cucumber vines, green beans, and zucchini, with a side patch of potatoes and onions would about do.” She pointed to a sheltered spot by an old picnic bench. “Might want a line of herbs about there. Few oregano, sage, chives, and dill plants, would be nice.” She swiveled and motioned to another spot nearer the kitchen door. “Could even put in a line of kale, spinach, and lettuce there in that sunny area. Right close to the house so you can snatch a salad for lunch or dinner.”
Unaccountably, Imogene felt tears fill her eyes. This woman was nothing like her niece, her neighbors, friends, relatives, or anyone she had ever met before. The vision laid before her acted like a clarion call to her soul. Her yard wasn’t an unprofitable weed-riddled piece of land she’d have to wrestle into usefulness. Suddenly, she saw the Grace of God ready to come to life. Surreptitiously, she wiped her eyes.
Marge kept her gaze kindly focused on the apple tree. “Might take a sprig from that tree and plant it close by.” She shrugged and a soft smile wafted over her face. “Never know. Something new might grow right up nice alongside of it.”
Imogene nodded in agreement. A memory rallied to the front of her mind. “Whatever happened to that boy you were helping out? Carl said he has his own vegetable stand…or something.”
Finally, Marge turned and faced Imogene. Their eyes met and understanding flowed between them. “Yeah. A nice kid. Slender, I call him. His Mom has got issues, and grandma can’t manage, but the boy might make something of himself. The salvation of me, that boy. And my kids. Loving them; you know what I mean?”
With a nod and swallowing down a lump in her throat, she started for the shed. There was an extra garden hoe in there. With visions of weeds flying, she sidestepped every mole-hole and waved at Carl with a light heart as he called out, “Breakfast will be ready in just a bit.”
A. K. Frailey is the author of 17 books, a teacher for 35 years, and a homeschooling mother of 8.
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