Frank Snyder’s vague dissatisfaction with his life prompts him to plant a garden. Does it help?
A part of Frank Snyder felt like he had wasted his life. And not just a small part of it either, but a rather large part, if you got right down to it. Sure he had a secure job at a highly thought of engineering company located in a suburb of Minneapolis, not a bad commute from where he lived. And, sure, he had a wonderful family and a loving wife, Jan, who, now that the kids had grown and left home, was happily devoting her time to the antique shop she ran with a group of her friends in a highly sought after retail block in a quaint neighborhood near Lake Harriet about a mile from where she and Frank lived. All of that was well and good. In fact, most of his friends gave him a hard time when he mentioned his vague dissatisfaction.
“Get over it, Frank,” his closest friend Larry, a very focused and dedicated software engineer said over after work drinks at a bar in Uptown. “Either do something about it or don’t. Your complaining is not becoming at all.”
“I’m not complaining, I’m stating a fact,” Frank responded. “Just thinking out loud.”
“So do something about it, then,” Larry said, emphasizing his point by finishing off his shot of Maker’s Mark and standing up, getting ready to leave. “Get yourself a hobby.” He began enumerating, counting off on his fingers, ” You’ve got your outside stuff like fishing and hunting. Your mountain biking and kayaking. Hang gliding of wake boarding.” Larry was getting on a roll. “Then you’ve got your inside stuff like painting or learning to play guitar, or you could even write a novel.” He stopped and looked at his friend, who was holding up his hand to stop. “Tons of stuff to do, if you ask me.” Frank just shook his head, getting a little discouraged. None of those things were even of the remotest interest to him. “Anyway,” Larry said, turning and waving his fingers, “I’m outta’ here. Lynn’ll be waiting for me. See ya’ at the office.” One of Larry’s many hobbies was restoring classic cars. Right now he was working on a two-tone turquoise and white 1957 Chevy Belair four door convertible with a continental kit on the back. This one he’d name Lynn.
Frank had to admit he was a little envious that his friend had a hobby he enjoyed so much. He watched as Larry wove his way through the crowd and out the door. His gaze fell on a row of hanging planters that lined the inside of the windows at the front of the bar. They were full of lush, green plants with their shining foliage cascading over the edges like leafy waterfalls. They added more than just a nice touch to the room, they gave it life. Besides that, they were pretty. Frank felt himself intrigued by them. Truth be told, he wasn’t the most macho guy around. He enjoyed sports and stuff like that as much as the next guy, but his life didn’t revolve around them, nor did it depend on the whether or not any of the major sports teams in the area were winning or losing. He’d just as soon read a book or go for a walk with his wife than spend three and a half hours on a Sunday glued to a television set, something Larry and other of his friends did. Nope, that wasn’t for him. There was more to life than that. Then he had an idea. He’d always liked gardening. Maybe he’d expand the little garden he’d been fiddling around with the last couple of years. That would be something he could do. He could buy some plants and use them to add a little color to the yard. It would get him outside, he’d be in the fresh air and maybe even work up a sweat. He knew he’d been putting on some extra pounds over the years since the kids had moved out. Both he and Jan were in their mid fifties. She had her antiques and circle of friends. What did he have? His job, of course, but not much else when it came right down to it. Maybe now was the time to make a change. Do something different. The more he thought about it the more it sounded like a good idea. He briefly wondered what Larry would think. Probably not much. He’d probably chastise him, make fun of him and, as a joke, suggest bird watching instead, ironically something Frank thought he might someday consider. Gardening may not be all that adventurous or macho as far as Larry was concerned, but this wasn’t about Larry. It was about him and for now it sounded good. He paid his tab and hurried home, eager to tell his wife, pausing for a moment at the front of the bar to admire the vibrant green plants in the hanging baskets, fighting an urge to touch them. He didn’t know what they were, but that was Ok. He was looking forward to learning.
“Are you nuts?” Jan said later on that evening when he told her about his idea. “You don’t know the first thing about gardening.” His wife, it appeared, was less than enthusiastic about his idea.
But that was Ok. What the heck, he thought to himself, forging ahead, he’d do it anyway. The idea was beginning to sound not only exciting but challenging. He needed a change and doing something new in his life continued to sound good. In the end, he really couldn’t talk himself out of it. Besides, what did he have to lose? Not a thing.
The engineering mind of Frank kicked in over the next few weeks as he spent time planning and laying out the next steps. He and Jan had moved into the two story, white stucco house in southwest Minneapolis twenty one years ago when the kids, Colby and Jaynie, were still toddlers. The street was a quiet one, lined with older well cared for houses. Ravished years ago by Dutch Elm Disease the neighborhood now was home to a mixture trees like maple, oak and ash. Frank’s home measured twenty five feet square and sat in the middle of a lot measuring fifty feet wide by one hundred feet deep. It faced west and the south side got excellent sunlight. That’s where he decided to begin. Over a weekend in the end of June he started to dig out the sod all along the south side of the house in a straight line about four feet out from the foundation. He went to the local home store and had them cut four inch square timbers eight feet long so they could fit in the back of his Prius. Then he laid them in as an edge to his garden, working on his hands and knees, leveling the ground with a trowel as he went. It took him two weekends to complete, but late Sunday afternoon of the second weekend, as he was smoothing the soil with a rake, Jan came out and admired his work.
“I have to say it looks pretty good there, big fella’,” she said.” Almost like you know what you’re doing.” She smiled and rubbed his shoulder. For many years Frank’s life style had been rather sedentary but now this physical activity felt good. Jan’s hand on his shoulder felt even better.
“I’m trying.” He grinned, acknowledging her compliment. “I’ve added bags of horse manure and other stuff to pump up and enrich the soil. Next up is some plants.”
Jan looked at the dug up space, the dirt lying fresh and fragrant in the late afternoon sun. She enjoyed seeing her husband so happy. For some reason, he’d been kind of down for the last year or two. Nothing critical, she felt, just not himself. He was a good man. She had always loved his sense of humor and his positive attitude. He was a hard worker and never complained if things at the office were too crazy, which, she knew, they sometimes were.
She rubbed her hand through his hair. It was gray and thinning. His eyes were twinkling with enthusiasm and his face was getting tan from all the time he’d been spending working outside. Even his arms and legs were showing some color. His light blue tee-shirt and tan cargo shorts were smudged with dirt. There was an aroma around him that was a mixture of sweat and heat and fresh air that smelled surprisingly pleasant. He seemed not only happy, but as healthy as he’d been in she didn’t know how long.
“What kind of plants are you going to put in,” she asked, suddenly wanting to connect more with him.
Frank pointed down the block. “A bunch of pretty ones. I’m getting them down at Sunnyside.”
Three blocks away was a neighborhood garden center named, appropriately enough, Sunnyside Gardens. Next Saturday he was there at seven in the morning as soon as the gate opened. All in all he made half a dozen trips loading plants at Sunnyside and unloading them in the driveway near his new garden space. Then he had to plant them and water them in. By the time he was done late Saturday afternoon he was sweat stained and happy. He’d planted: golden-yellow Black-Eyed Susan’s (Rudbeckia). Three different colors of cone-flowers (Echinacea), purple and white and terra cotta. Pink and red and burgundy Bee-Balm (Monarda) and lilac, purple and white Phlox. All of them together were so pretty that he took out his iPhone and snapped some photos and sent them to Larry. His response was a good natured, “Lots of work for stuff that’s just going to die every year.” Ha, ha, Frank thought to himself. All of his plants were perennials. They’d come back year after year and apparently Larry didn’t know that. See, he was learning something that his friend didn’t know and just that felt good. But what really felt good was how much Jan and even some neighbors thought of his project.
The sun was setting to the west and the day was cooling . Jan arrived home from a busy Saturday at her shop and met him outside, surveying his work. “I have to admit,” she said, patting him on the back, “This looks really nice. I like all the different colors.”
“You know what all the colors remind me of?” Frank asked. She gave him a questioning look, like, go ahead. “That cereal the kids used to eat. You know, those Fruit Loops.”
Jan burst out laughing. “God, Frank, I hadn’t thought about them in years. They were so loaded with sugar…” She laughed some more and it made Frank feel good to hear her. His gardening maybe would end up having a positive effect in his relationship with his wife, which was good anyway, but maybe now was getting better. Stranger things could happen.
“What’s up next?” She asked.
The edge of the new garden along the side of the house was about five feet from the driveway which formed the boundary between him and his neighbor. There was a narrow strip of grass between the new garden and the driveway but he didn’t want to do anymore planting in that area. It got beat up pretty badly with the snow that piled up there during the winter when he shoveled. “To add more color, I’m going to plant some annuals in with the perennials,” he said, pointing to the spaces between the new plants, feeling good and knowledgeable and noticing that Jan nodded approvingly. ” But I’ve also been thinking about the back yard. Come on with me.” He took her hand and they walked along the edge of the new garden past the back of the house into the back yard. This area was shaded by a fifteen year old sugar maple tree that was about twenty feet high. He and Jan looked around. “I’m going to tackle this next,” he said. The back yard was empty of any planting except for the tree. Years ago, along the boundary on the far side, a previous owner had put in a four foot high chain link fence which was now a rusted, bent up mess. Frank pointed at it. “I’m thinking of having the fence taken out and a new wooden one put in, then putting a line of plants along the edge of it kind of like what I just did back there.” He pointed back to where the new garden was. “It’ll close the backyard in and make it more private.” He paused, looking around, envisioning it. “Make it like a sanctuary.”
“Sounds ambitious,” Jan said, frowning and looking somewhat skeptical. She’d not seen Frank this enthused about anything since… Well, since she couldn’t remember when. “Lots of work,” she added.
“I know, but I’ve got a plan.”
Frank’s plan, in addition to planting along the (soon to be built ) new fence, was to also dig out an area along the back boarder of the yard. Here he would plant shade loving plants like hosta and pulmonaria. He took a few minutes to explain his idea to Jan, who listened, her skepticism finally being won over by her husband’s enthusiasm.
She finally nodded when he was finished and said, “Well, it sounds like a plan alright. Are you sure you’re up to it?” Frank’s dad had died of a heart attack years earlier. Now, at their age, health was always a consideration.
Frank barely heard her, gazing around the empty yard, seeing it like an artist might, a blank canvas waiting to be turning into a beautiful work of art. “Yeah, I’m up for it,” he said, turning to Jan and embracing her. “I’m pretty psyched.”
She laughed and hugged him back. “Let’s go get some ice tea to celebrate. You can fill me in some more on your ideas.” They headed inside, arms around each other, happier with each other than they’d been in a long time. Working on, and now finally completing, the new garden had prompted a positive change in Frank’s attitude which subsequently affected Jan and they were both better off for it. His enthusiasm for his new hobby was infectious. Even though Jan had her life with her antiques business and circle of friends, she now felt herself drawn into Frank’s new world with his fresh ideas, and gardens and colorful plants. It was like he’d become more alive. It somehow was also making them stronger as a couple, happy and fulfilled in ways previously not experienced by either of them. They came back outside and set out their lawn chairs with a little table between and relaxed in the back yard, sipping ice cold tea and talking, hardly aware of the sun setting to the west. For them a new day was just around the corner, and that new day was one they were both looking forward to.
And that may have been the end of Frank’s story except that it was really only just the beginning.
He found a local handyman who agreed to remove the old chain link fence and install a new one. After a little consultation they chose a nice crisp six foot tall natural wooden fence with interwoven lattice along the top. The handyman, who name was Gil, was a retired Minneapolis Parks Department worker and he knew what he was doing. He got the old fence out and the new one installed in three days. He complemented Frank on his ‘side garden’ as the first garden along the side of the house was now being called and made a few suggestions about the back garden where Frank was planning to plant hostas.
“Try some Astilbe and maybe some Solomon’s Seal,” Gil suggested the last day when he was picking up his tools and getting ready to leave. “They’ll add a nice bit of texture to what you’re planning with the hostas.”
Frank did that. He was finding that people who enjoyed gardening loved to talk about plants and advice was generally given freely and often. And that was just fine. Frank was learning as he was going along and enjoying it. Not only did Jan notice and appreciate the change in him, but people at work did as well.
“You’re looking tan and fit,” Larry said to him on a Monday toward the beginning of August. With the backyard completed, Frank had spent the weekend digging out and planting another planting area, this time in the front yard. “Working on the garden again?”
“Always.” Frank smiled and stretched, feeling good about the way his muscles felt. Instead of being soft and flabby, they were getting a toned, firm feel. He was indeed feeling fit, having lost about seven pounds. “I was outside all weekend. The place is looking great. You should drive that ’57 Chevy of yours over to see it sometime.”
“I just can’t believe you ended up doing gardening,” Larry said, looking puzzled. “I was thinking you might have tackled something a little more…”
“What?” Frank jumped in, his smile gone and a challenging tone to his voice. “More…dangerous. Like your helpful idea of me going hang-gliding or mountain biking or something like that?”
“Well…” Larry was suddenly at a loss, seeing his friend getting a little peeved. “You know…”
Frank held up a hand to stop him. “If you don’t think gardening is macho enough, come on over and help me next weekend. I’m digging out a new bed and could use an extra pair of hands.” He stopped and gave Larry a look. “And the muscle, too, if you’re up for it.” Larry was taken aback, suddenly speechless. He’d never seen his friend this charged up before. Then Frank laughed, relieving the tension. “Hey, man, I’m just kidding. I get what you’re saying,” Slapping his friend good naturedly on the shoulder. “Yeah, I could have chosen anything, but I like my gardens. I like planning them, digging them out and working in the soil. It works for me.”
They left it at that and when back to their office cubicles. Surprisingly, though, Larry did eventually drive his Chevy over. And he really was blown away by what Frank had accomplished. The yard, which three months ago had been nothing but grass and the occasional scraggly bush, was now completely transformed. Frank had planted evergreen shrubs up against the house in the front and filled pots with pink geraniums that he put on the steps leading to the front door. Along the brick walkway leading from the sidewalk to the front door and along either side of it he planted a variety of brightly colored petunias. On each side of the walkway, out in the yard, he dug out freeform circles that he planted with ornamental grasses, gray cones flowers, Indian paintbrush and asters, giving the front yard a prairie sort of look. Along the far side of the house (opposite of his first ‘side garden’) he dug out a strip and planted Lilies-of-the-Valley, a hearty perennial and one of Jan’s favorite’s, that would bloom sweet scented, tiny white bell-like flowers every spring. He had his original side garden and then the back yard where he’d added sun loving plants like cone flowers, black-eyed Susan’s, bee-balm and phlox along the new fence Gil put in. As an homage to his dear departed mother he’d even planted some old time pink peonies. Along the border in the back of the yard was his shade garden with hostas, astilbes and pulmonaria which he extended all the way to the wall of the garage where he dug out another garden and added more hosta’s.
As the summer progressed, in the evenings after dinner, he and Jan would often sit in lawn chairs in the back yard just looking at the gardens and talking. They’d admire all the pretty colors, breathe the fresh scent of whatever was blooming and listen to birds singing, bidding a final farewell to the day. Jan would fill him in on how her antique business was doing and Frank would talk about further plans for the gardens he was envisioning. It seemed that Jan was enjoying this time with her husband more and more, looking forward to it during the day. And Frank reciprocated, more interested in the shop and talking with Jan about her business and whatever antiques she and her partners were considering purchasing. It was like the gardens were bringing them closer somehow, working some sort of flowery magic on them.
One evening around Labor Day, while they were sitting in the backyard, Jan reached over and caressed Frank’s upper arm. The phlox were blooming lavender and white and the coneflowers where full of purple flower heads that were attracting orange and black monarch butterflies. Honey bees buzzed lazily through burgundy bee-balm and the golden black eyed Susan’s were in full color. Frank had hung baskets of salmon and white geraniums off the new wooden fence and they were bursting with blooms.”It’s so pretty back here, now,” she said, leaving her hand there for a moment.”I’m glad you’re doing this.”
“You like it?” Frank asked, rubbing her hand, liking the feel of it and her.
“I do,” Jan responded, smiling, her eyes bright with feeling. “Very much.”
Frank’s gardens were having a positive effect on not only his marriage and his relationship with Jan, but on the neighborhood as well. Toward the end of September he bought about a dozen fall blooming asters in a variety of colors ranging from blue to violet to magenta and he was adding them to the gardens he’d already dug. He was in the front yard when a couple strolled by walking their little dog. They stopped and complemented him on his yard.
“It looks great,” the guy said, a young man around twenty.
His wife or girl friend added, “Is it a lot of work?”
Frank just laughed and said, “Not really. Not if you don’t have anything better to do.”
The young couple smiled and took their time looking around some more before moving on. It made him feel good. The gardens really were a lot of work, but it was work he didn’t mind at all. Did that make it fun? Hard to say. At least it made it rewarding. He was feeling a sort of spiritual connection to them, if you could call it that. He felt enriched somehow, working with his gardens. It was hard to him to explain or put into works, but it was there nevertheless. He felt better for having planted them and for taking care of them and that counted for a lot, as far as he was concerned.
His neighbors began stopping by more and more often, too, talking with him and complimenting him on how pretty everything looked. Some of them ever started planting and adding flowers of various types to their yards. Around the time most of his plants started to die back in October Frank was struck by how pretty his yard looked. He’d been coming home from work, just pulling into the driveway, when the variety of colors standing out in the late afternoon sun, gleaming like a sea of brightly colored jewels, was stunning to him. It made him feel happy and alive. It was a good feeling.
The last planting he did for the season, just before the first snow fell in mid November, was to plant nearly two hundred tulip and daffodil bulbs in the gardens in the front and the side, his first garden and his sentimental favorite. He planted them in groups of ten, lovingly adding bone meal and blood meal for nourishment. After the last of them was put in the ground and buried he stood up and looked around, remembering all the work he’d done over the past months and feeling better than he had in years with himself and his life. He was actually looking forward to the following year with a sense of excitement and anticipation. There was frost on the ground right now and his hands were cold and stiff through his gloves. He was hoping his plants would all survive Minnesota’s harsh winter of cold and snow. Time would tell. They were perennials, after all. They were supposed to.
A month later, in the middle of December there was a foot of snow on the ground. By the end of February the next year there was twenty seven inches. Frank’s flower beds lay sleeping underneath a white blanket, resting and waiting. In the middle of March, when the spring thaw finally began, Frank found himself trudging through the snow in his yard, gazing where his gardens were buried, willing the snow to melt faster. He hadn’t felt this kind of anticipation since his kids had been born, a sentiment he chose not to share with anyone, not even Jan.
Finally the snow was completely melted and the earth lay bare, soaking up the sun’s life giving rays. He checked the gardens every day, anticipation building . Finally, when he went outside on a warm morning in the middle of April, he found little tender green shoots starting to appear, pushing up through the dark, damp soil. The bulbs he’d planted in the fall had survived winter’s snow and cold and were starting to grow. He was beside himself with joy. They were alive.
Excitedly he ran to the back door, opened it and yelled inside. “Jan, come here,” he called. “The bulbs are growing.”
“I’ll be right there,” she called back and returned to her phone call. “Yeah, that was Frank. He wants to show me something in the yard.”
Frank was shuffling back and forth on the step in his muddy work boots, holding the back door open and waiting. He could hear his wife. “Not in the yard, in the garden,” he yelled inside, correcting her.
“Sorry,” she called back, smiling, appreciating her husband’s enthusiasm. It was nice to see. She listened to her friend on the other line before responding, “Yeah, he’s pretty excited. I’ll call you later.” Then called to Frank. “I’m coming.”
She heard the door slam and pictured her husband running like a kid back to his garden, his favorite one, the first one he’d dug, the side garden. She smiled. He could be doing lots worse things with his life. He didn’t drink much at all and had quit smoking ten years early. He didn’t go out carousing. He was a good father and caring husband. The gardens made him happy and that made her happy. He had his hobby with his gardening and she had her work with her antique business. They were sharing a good life and were closer now than they’d been in years.
She pulled on her boots and a jean jacket, taking a moment to fluff her hair. Then she stepped outside into the sunny warmth of a new spring morning. She stood a minute, breathing in the clean, fresh air and feeling like life just couldn’t get any better. Birds were singing and there was a faint, light green blush of new leaf buds forming on the trees. The sky above was so blue it almost hurt her eyes. There was a sense of anticipation in the air, the kind that only those living through months of snow and freezing cold could relate to. Spring was finally on its way and with it a time of rebirth and new life. So, as she rounded the corner of the house to meet her husband, the last thing she expected to find was what she found. It was Frank laying on the ground, rolling back and forth and gasping and moaning, obviously in pain.
“Frank,” Jan screamed and ran to him, dropping to her knees on the soggy ground. She cradled his head in her arms and held him close to her chest for a moment before taking out her phone to call 911. When she hung up she held him again. His breathing was labored. She looked at his face. It was pale, almost ashen. His chest rose and fell irregularly. She briefly wondered if she was witnessing her husband’s last breaths before she forced the thought from her mind. No, she yelled to herself. Quit thinking like that. Get a grip on yourself. She brushed her hand over Frank’s forehead. He opened his eyes. She thought he recognized her. “Frank,” she said gently, caressing his face, “Don’t leave me. The ambulance is on the way.” Frank was able to give her a weak smile back. His eyes were fluttering, open only slightly. He tried to smile some more, but his lips were skewed, like his mouth didn’t work anymore. He tried to speak. It was like this tongue was twice at thick and he had a mouth full of mud. “Shhh,” Jan said, “Just rest.”
Frank made an effort to wet his lips and tried rally his strength, struggling. He forced his eyes open so he was looking right at her. In the distance the siren from the ambulance cut through the air. They were only a few minutes away. His eyes made contact with hers. “An,” he said, his voice a muffled whisper, slurred. “An, id ou ee em?”
Jan shook her head, eyes filling with tears. He was trying so hard to speak. She had no idea what he was saying. It was painful to watch. “Just be quiet, dear. Rest.”
He closed his eyes for a moment, gathering his strength once more before opening them again. “A arden,” he said, nearly unintelligible. “Id ou ee a arden.”
Something about the garden? Despite herself, and through the tears now flowing freely, Jan looked over her shoulder to the side garden, Frank’s favorite. She looked back at him. “What, Frank?” She held him close and whispered in his ear, trying not to break down, “What is it?”
“The ulbs,” Frank said, and tried to indicate what he meant with his hand, with limited success. “The ulbs are owing.”
Jan looked back. There in the garden, among the leaf litter and broken clots of soil left from the long, long winter, tiny green shoots were poking up through the soil. Little peaks of color showing through the battered earth. The bulbs Frank had so carefully planted at the end of last season were growing. They had survived. She managed a smile as she looked into Frank’s eyes, eyes that she thought might be showing the tiniest little twinkle. “I see them, Frank. I see them. They look beautiful.”
Frank’s grin was askew as his eyes closed and his face relaxed. The ambulance came quickly to a stop in front of the house and two paramedics ran across the yard to where Jan was kneeling, cradling her husband’s head. She was weeping as they gently pulled her away and began administering to him. She wrapped her arms around herself, shaking, standing close by, all thoughts gone from her mind except one: Please, please do whatever you can to bring him back. Please. The two paramedics, a young guy and an older woman, worked for what seemed like fifteen minutes but really was closer to just one or two. Curious neighbors started to come outside, watching. The lights on the ambulance blinked a pulsating red and blue. Suddenly Jan thought she saw one of Frank’s fingers twitch. Then his whole hand. Her emotions flooded over her and she had to catch herself. She nearly fainted. The older paramedic stood quickly and went to her, putting an arm around her shoulder.
“It’s Ok,” she said, leaning down to make eye contact with Jan. “Your husband is alive. He’s going to be fine.” Jan broke down weeping some more, turning her face into the kind lady’s shoulder. Tears of relief. Tears of joy. The lady paramedic, whose name tag read Tina, patted her on the shoulder to comfort her and let her take a few moments to collect herself. Then she said, “Let’s go inside and get you some tea, sweetheart.” They started to move along the side of the house toward the back yard. Jan was filled with a mixture of elation and heart ache as she allowed the nice paramedic to escort her. As they passed by the side of the house into the backyard toward the back door, Tina looked around and commented, “Looks like someone likes to garden.”
Jan was openly weeping, but was able to smile through her tears. “That’s my husband’s,” she said, making an effort to respond. “He’s the gardener.”
Tina patted her on the shoulder as they turned to the back door, opening it to go inside. “I’m sure they’re beautiful, dear,” she said. “And don’t you worry. He’ll be back outside in no time.”
Jan needed something to believe in. Why would the paramedic lie? She looked back around the yard and envisioned all the flowers coming to life this spring and summer, blooming and adding so much life and color to the world. She saw Frank out in the yard, planting annuals in with the perennials. He saw him on his hands and knees working in the soil, weeding and enjoying being out in the sun. She saw herself in the kitchen watching him, making some ice tea to take out to him for them to share, sitting side by side in their lawns chairs, looking at the gardens, talking, being together and sharing the life they had with each other. She saw all of these things clearly and distinctly. She looked at her, “You’re sure?”
Tina met her eyes straight on. “Without a doubt.” she said. “Honestly. Without a doubt.”
Jan sighed. Relief? Maybe. Emotional exhaustion? Surely. They went inside and Tina sat her down at the kitchen table. Jan started running through her mind all of the things she had to do. Her husband would need her full time help. The Tina said that it looked like he had a stroke. The days ahead would tell them how severe. For now it looked like he had every chance of making a nearly complete recovery. Tina told her all of this before going back outside to her partner, leaving Jan inside to focus on making some tea. But she never even began making it. The last thing she wanted was tea. She wanted Frank. She went back outside and stayed with her husband, watching the paramedics make him comfortable on a gurney before hoisting him into the ambulance. The hospital was a fifteen minute drive away. She was going to ride along.
As she climbed in and was getting adjusted to the cramped space, Frank opened his eyes again. She reached for his nearest hand, now attached to a drip line, and said, “Just rest, dear. You’re going to be Ok.”
Frank started blinking and then wet his lips. “Ay ith e?” His voice was weak, barely a sigh.
She was getting used to his limited speech now. “Yes, Frank, I’ll stay with you.” She very gently caressed his hand.
They were quiet for a moment. The ambulance pulled out heading for the hospital, siren wailing. Jan felt the shift and sway to the vehicle. Frank opened his eyes again, the slightest of smiles on his face. He was trying so hard. Jan looked at him. He was struggling to say something. Jan willed her husband to just rest. But he wasn’t ready for that. Finally he got the words out. “A ar en,” he said. “Id ou ee a ar en?” He closed his eyes again, exhausted.
Jan leaned closely, whispering in his ear. “I did,” she said, “I saw the garden. I saw the new bulbs.” She blinked to hold back her tears, willing herself to be strong. “We’ll get you better and get you back home real soon so you can see them. See the new bulbs, and the new flowers and the gardens growing.” She paused and then added, “They’re going to be beautiful, just you wait and see.” Jan had no idea if her husband could hear her, but Frank closed his eyes, his face relaxing as if he had. Just get better, she added to herself, like a whispered prayer.
By now they had made their way to the hospital, a huge and bustling complex. The ambulance pulled into the Emergency Entrance and the paramedics got ready to take Frank in. Orderlies in blue hurried to assist them. Frank squeezed Jan’s hand weakly before letting go. She followed behind as the gurney was unloaded and quickly wheeled through the heavy swinging doors. She glanced back outside just once before walking in, catching a glimpse of something growing along the wall right outside the entrance. Some sort of flowers. They looked like what Frank had planted. There were further along than his and were blooming a pretty, buttery yellow. Daffodils, she thought they were. She rushed on inside, the doors swinging shut, the concern for her husband softened momentarily by the color of those flowers, so vibrant and so alive, growing and flourishing in the warmth of the bright springtime sun. And becoming, as she ran toward the gurney, like a colorful, flowery bouquet in her mind, full of hope for her husband that one day he would come home and be outside with his own flowers, working the soil and planting more gardens, and all of this hospital chaos happening here, right now would be but a far and distant memory. Was it a naive kind of hope? Who knew? But it was the one thing she felt she could do right now, to keep that hope alive for her and her husband and their future and their life together. If Frank’s gardens helped that hope turn real and gave both of them the strength to help him to get better, so be it. Who was she to argue with life’s mysteries?
Up ahead Tina was leaning over Frank, saying something to him. She turned and caught Jan’s eye and motioned for her to hurry. She did.