The Growing Up Of Andrew Malone
As bad days go, it was the worst. We were neighbors less than two weeks when mom died. With all of the foot traffic coming and going I almost missed him standing alone, quietly behind the fence.
“Hey kid. Sorry about your mom.”
I slung a half cocked smile his direction, shuffled my foot over the dusty ground and turned to walk away. That was the last I saw of him for three weeks - until grandma moved in.
I was playing catch - throwin’ the ball high as I could and running under it; pretending it was a high fly ball to right field. That’s what I was aimin’ to be - the greatest outfielder in the history of baseball - that is until Mr. Duncan’s life weaved its tapestry into mine.
“Hey kid. Give me a hand?”
“Sure. How do I get over there?”
“Loose boards in the fence ‘bout half way down.”
I parted the boards and crossed into his world.
He had the broadest shoulders I’d ever seen, a skinny smile, and ebony hair with a hint of grey that glistened when the sunlight caught it just right, and he toted a shovel over his right shoulder like a soldier marching into battle. He was a quiet fellow, never said too much and when he did, it was short, choppy sentences.
“Grab a bucket ‘n c’mon.”
“These sure are pretty flowers, sir.”
“Name’s Duncan. Jack Duncan.”
“These sure are pretty flowers Mr. Duncan.”
“Most of ‘em are older than you, kid.”
For the next five years I spent the better part of every summer and daily, after school with Mr. Duncan. I shoveled manure up to my knees, turned compost heaver than my own weight full of rotting scraps and earthworms big around as my little finger. I moved flowers from shade to sun and back again and learned why I was doing it; planted heirloom seeds and watched in amazement as tiny sprouts popped through loamy soil, and I learned the common and proper names of the more than three hundred plants in Mr. Duncan’s yard.
The harder I worked, the more I talked. The more I talked, the more he listened - often without a response. No topic was off limits. Mr. Duncan filled life’s empty void and quickly became my mentor as well as my friend. He taught me to spit like a man, laugh ‘til I cried, and embrace the land like a farmer.
A chunk of me died the day Mr. Duncan went to be with the Lord. The soil I’d learned to treasure now bound and imprisoned the two people I loved most in the world and I hated the sight of it. I kicked the fence where I’d first heard his voice and nailed tight the boards I’d used to enter his world. I resolved if I never saw another blossom it would be too soon. I knew that day, my life was forever changed.
Now a young man of seventeen, I readied plans to go off to college. Dreams that once sparkled beneath baseball’s diamonds now glistened amid horticulture’s gemstones, and the carvings of Mr. Duncan’s mentoring cut deeply into my restless spirit, but my heart hung heavy under discouragement’s fog.
I mustered courage to peer through the weathered fence one last time into the world that grew me to a man. In each blossom and every petal I saw Mr. Duncan‘s smile. With every breeze that blew lilies’ aroma and gardenias sweetness past my nose I breathed in his patience and inhaled his sharp wit and abbreviated wisdom.
My heart skipped a beat.
“Are you Andrew Malone?”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“I’m Bill. Bill Duncan, Jack’s brother. Jack spoke of you often. He really loved you, you know. He never had any kids of his own. He thought of you as the son he always wanted. In fact, he loved you so much he wanted you to have this.”
The stranger, who bore a ghostly resemblance to his brother, passed an envelope through the splintered, rotting boards. I opened it, carefully.
“Say mister, I can‘t take this. It’s the deed to Mr. Duncan‘s land.”
“He wanted you to have it; said you were the only one that loved the land like he did. He knew you would cherish his years of hard work.”
I dropped to my knees. Things, it seems, may suddenly be looking up.
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