Taking to heart an old lesson

Published 10:16 pm Friday, March 18, 2011

This week, as I exercised my dog in my yard, I noticed my neighbor had almost silently planted a few rows of turnips and carrots, both crops that are best planted in early spring.

As I admired his neat rows where seeds were battling to germinate, sprout and eventually produce delicious vegetables, my neighbor sauntered over for a conversation.

My neighbor, we’ll call him “Mr. Smith,” has lived in his house since he built it 50 years ago, and every year he’s lived there he’s tended to a garden.

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It started as a tiny area in the back of the yard where he planted tomatoes. As time has gone on, it’s grown into what I was admiring that day, complete with a raised bed, a short chicken wire border to ward off rabbits and a couple of fake owls to ward off everything else. He plants year-round now, from the carrots he’ll harvest in May, to the tomatoes that will grow all summer long and the collards that I was introduced to last winter.

But what he loves most about his garden is not the produce it provides, but the people it attracts. After all, I never would have spoken to the man had he not caught me sneaking a photo of his beautiful collards.

But I’m not the only one.

The people who lived in our house before us often received paper bags of food from him. Mr. Smith would often show their young child how to pick the ripe tomatoes and let the green ones grow a little more. One of our other neighbors would often consult with him about the best dirt to use for planting squash. I’ve seen the neighbor on our other side borrow the gas-powered tiller that has served Mr. Smith for years.

Mr. Smith said his own children, who have long since moved to other parts of the country, had to learn the ways of the garden before they were allowed to play with their friends. According to Mr. Smith, they all have their own gardens and those plots have given his children the ability to make good friends with their neighbors.

When I discovered the bag full of the collards on our picnic table after our first encounter, I assumed Mr. Smith was just unloading some unwanted produce.

Friendly neighbors are a new experience for me. He’s the first neighbor I’ve ever had who’s bothered to speak to me, much less give me anything.

So I finally asked him why he gave me the collards.

His answer might not come as much surprise to his generation, no matter where they’re from, but I have to admit it surprised me.

“It was the neighborly thing to do.”

With all the crime and pettiness filling many interactions between people in our country, it’s a piece of wisdom that we should all take to heart.