September 3, 2013 9:27:57 AM
We wound our way through the woods to Willis Pope's garden. Willis and Carolyn were out of town, but walking partner Shirley had permission to glean from their garden.
We filled our bags with tomatoes. The ones that were split from too much rain we hurled into the woods for critters to eat. I plucked a few green peppers knowing Sam won't eat them. I chop them, freeze them and toss them in a dish even though Sam scooches them to the side of his plate. Willis' zinnias were beautiful and bountiful, nice for our kitchen table; I picked some.
"I'm going to visit a friend at the hospital and zinnias might be nice. You think I can I come back and pick a few more?"
Shirley said, "Sure. Willis won't be home til tonight."
Willis has a green thumb because most of his place is heavily shaded, except for this one small plot where he manages to grow tons of vegetables and masses of zinnias.
Nick Hairston also has a full garden and lots of zinnias. Another neighbor pitches zinnia seeds around a telephone pole where they dazzle. I have wide open sunny fields and my plot yields small zinnias and pitiful tomatoes. I'm thankful for neighbors who share their tomatoes and zinnias.
The same morning we were picking at Willis', author Ann Voskamp blogged her 40th birthday where she and her six kids and her husband she calls "the farmer," did 40 random acts of kindness, including handing out flowers. When they returned, Ann's sister had arranged a surprise birthday party.
In the yard was an old farm table with "thrifted" chairs and linens; streamers of colorful ribbons hung from a clothes line. Mason jars served as drinking glasses; there was a homemade cake covered with roses. Entertainment was the showing of "Fiddler on the Roof" projected on a white sheet. I loved it.
At the end of Ann's blog was a printable gift tag like the one they had used. It said G.I.F.T., for "Give it forward today." I printed one and made a vase from an empty olive jar and attached the gift tag with a ribbon.
I returned to Willis' garden and cut scarlet red, bright yellow, shades of orange and pale to hot pink zinnias. I arranged them in the olive jar.
At the hospital an elderly couple stepped on the elevator. They were holding hands and smiling at one another.
The man said, "Pretty zinnias."
"Yes, my neighbors' yards are full of them."
"Oh," he said, "you cut those from the yard." I nodded.
"I remember zinnias from my childhood. My momma had lots of zinnias."
The lady nodded; the couple smiled again.
I left the olive jar at the bedside of my sleeping friend. When I visited again she smiled and said all the nurses loved her zinnias.
Willis' zinnias in an empty olive jar had packed a lot of smile-power.
Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.