Aunt Josephine placed a tray of food on the coffee table and then sat back on the couch next to Uncle Jeffrey. Charlotte, Topping, Claire and Ned sat on the dining room chairs while Mr. McBardon, Bartholomew's elderly neighbor, wearing a plaid shirt, sat in a plaid stuffed chair with Oliver on his lap. Bartholomew came out of the kitchen carrying a tray with a pitcher of lemonade and glasses. One of his phones (he owns twelve) began to ring. He didn't want to interrupt the meeting, so he let it ring. Soon the group was surrounded by rings of different tones.
“How many phones do you have?” asked Claire.
“Bartholomew has twelve phones. He has trouble turning down a deal,” said Aunt Josephine.
Bartholomew blushed and changed the subject. “Okay, has everyone met everyone?” They went around the circle and introduced themselves to Mr. McBardon who was the only stranger.
“Well, I thought, before we talk about what plants we want to grow, we could discuss the layout or design of the garden and those types of things,” said Bartholomew.
Uncle Jeffrey spoke up immediately, “Bartholomew, I'm a little concerned about the property the garden is going to be on. Do you know who owns it? Is it city or railroad owned? I'm thinking we really should get permiss...”
“No need,” interrupted Mr. McBardon. “I've lived next to that property for forty years. Ain't nobody done nothing to it in all this time. I say garden it and see if anybody even notices. If you go asking permission, you know what's going to happen –nothing but trouble.”
“That may be, but I would feel more comfortable if we had permission, instead of just forging ahead,” said Uncle Jeffrey.
“Why don't we get started and before we dig Bartholomew can check into it?” suggested Mr. McBardon.
“Yeah,” said the others as they nodded their heads.
“Okay,” conceded Uncle Jeffrey, “But Bartholomew, do make sure you check.”
“I will,” assured Bartholomew. “All right, next thing I am wondering is if we all want our separate plots or if we want to grow stuff together? It might be easier if we grew enough tomatoes for everyone and grew them all next to each other. Then do the same with peas, and beans, etc.”
Mr. McBardon ran his hand through his thinning white hair and seemed agitated. “I want my own plot. You all can grow things together if you want, but I want my own plot for my own stuff. I want my own plot.”
Everyone raised their eyebrows at Mr. McBardon's insistence. “Okay, what do other people think?” asked Bartholomew.
Everyone else liked the idea of growing all of their food together. This was the first time most of them had grown food, so there were no expectations. Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey commented that it would be fun to grow it all together. They had grown a few things in their yard but nothing on this scale. So it was agreed that almost everyone would grow their food together but Mr. McBardon would have his own plot.
“Okay, so what do we want to grow? After we figure that out we can determine where we will plant everything. Any suggestions?”
Claire took a carrot stick from the tray dipped it and bit into it. Loud crunching sounds emanated from her mouth.
“I think Claire wants carrots,” joked Topping.
Claire nodded her head and smiled while she chewed.
“Okay, carrots,” said Bartholomew. “Anything else?”
Aunt Josephine spoke up, “Well, I would like some peas and beans. They are early vegetables so we would have to start them soon. I'm a little worried about vermin getting to them. When I was little, rabbits and squirrels would eat the peas before they could grow.”
“Not to mention the rats that might be along the railroad track,” said Mr. McBardon.
Charlotte let out a little squeal at the thought of rats.
“I'm sure there aren't any rats along the tracks,” assured Uncle Jeffrey.
“Just so,” said Mr. McBardon, “I can put my plot out closest to the railroad tracks and plant a big hedge of plants so they can't get through. And there's that little dog that's been hanging around humping everything. It might dig up the garden.”
There was a pause in the conversation as everyone wondered how a hedge of plants could keep out rats. Mr. McBardon just sat there chewing on his upper lip with his bottom dentures.
Changing the subject, Bartholomew said, “If you don't mind, I would like to grow cherry tomatoes, and some big tomatoes, three different kinds of lettuce, kale, three kinds of green beans, peas, potatoes,...” Topping noticed Bartholomew's whole body become energized while he talked about the vegetables he wanted to plant. His hands were moving differently for each vegetable he mentioned. He was standing and moving from side to side. His eyes were looking at everyone, excited to engage and share his vision. Topping almost laughed out loud. “...and celery, beets, and sweet potatoes. I think I also want to grow some green onions and maybe try out some artich...”
“I'm done,” announced Mr. McBardon as he got up from the chair, dumping Oliver unceremoniously to the floor. He shuffled to the door and walked out without saying goodbye. A moment later everyone in the living room let out a little laugh.
“How old is that guy?” asked Topping.
“I don't know,” said Bartholomew.
Uncle Jeffrey quickly interjected, “He's got to be eighty-eight years or so. He might be needing our help with gardening this summer. I'm not sure what he is capable of. So, be kind. I think this garden means a lot to him.”
“Yes,” added Aunt Josephine, “I think he is excited to do something active, something he used to do when he was younger – not so close to the end.”
“I'm worried I'm going to find him dead in the garden,” said Claire.
“Oh, Claire, how could you?” scolded Charlotte.
Topping, Bartholomew and Ned laughed. Bartholomew had noticed Ned was not very engaged in the meeting. He sat quietly next to Claire. “Hey, Ned, what do you want to grow?” asked Bartholomew.
“Oh, I don't care. I'll just help you guys out where I can and then bring some stuff home now and again. I don't really know what I would eat. I'll just help.”
The group spent the next half hour plotting out where they would grow everything. Mr. McBardon's plot was put out toward the railroad tracks. There were so many vegetables Bartholomew wanted to grow that he had his own plot for the vegetables other people were not interested in. Topping had a fence, a tool shed and a sitting area in his design for the garden. Everyone decided to wait to install those the second year, if there was one. Topping also had identified a spot for Claire's chickens, if the garden ever became that established. Claire was elated that Topping thought of her chickens. Charlotte was slightly annoyed that Topping thought of Claire's chickens. Finally, it was decided that Bartholomew and Uncle Jeffrey would buy the seeds and plants in ten days and everyone would prepare the garden and plant it in two weeks.
Once they were done with the planning of the garden, Topping asked Bartholomew if they could talk for a minute. They carried the food and lemonade into the kitchen.
“What's up?” asked Bartholomew.
“I need your car. Uncle Cy's shop has an opening and I need to have your car in the next day or two so I can paint it.”
“Oh yeah..., my car,” Bartholomew said with some hesitation as he peered into the living room to see where Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine were.
“Yes, of course, I just...”
Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine walked in to the kitchen and started putting things away.
“So, I can pick up your car on Tuesday? I'll have it back to you by the time we plant the garden,” said Topping.
“Is this about painting your father's car?” asked Aunt Josephine.
“Bartholomew, you know we don't approve of your painting your father's car like this,” added Uncle Jeffrey.
“Yes, painting it a color is one thing, but flames? Your father would turn over in his grave,” said Aunt Josephine.
“Bartholomew, as I told you, the car is not a collector's car or an antique, but it is rare around here and it is in very good condition. I don't want you doing something to it that would...ruin it somehow,” warned Uncle Jeffrey.
“I don't have to paint it,” offered Topping.
“No,” said Bartholomew. “I want you to paint it. I can't stand that pink stripe down the side. And I want it looking cool – with flames. Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine, I have seen the drawings Topping has made and he is a very good artist. You would be impressed, too, if you saw them. Topping is a good car painter. I want him to do it.”
“Well, I wish you would reconsider. But it is your car. We can't force you to do anything you don't want to,” said Uncle Jeffrey. Then he and Aunt Josephine left the kitchen to straighten the living room.
“You sure you want to do this?” asked Topping.
“Yeah, absolutely,” responded Bartholomew.
“And you want flames?” asked Topping.
Topping couldn't help but sense that Bartholomew was not so keen on the flames. His agreeing to flames seemed more out of a sense of duty – that he wouldn't go back on his word. Topping thought of the excitement and anticipation he saw in Bartholomew's eyes when he talked about growing vegetables. That's what he wanted to see in Bartholmew's eyes when they talked about painting flames on his car.
“I've been thinking,” said Topping, “would you mind if I changed the design some? There are some changes I think you would like. I don't have time to sketch them up and show you.”
Exasperated, Bartholomew said, “These changes aren't because of Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine are they?”
“No, not at all, they have nothing to do with them. It's just that I think you would like a few changes from what we originally planned. It's not much. Trust me.”
Bartholomew eyed Topping with uncertainty.
Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrations by Mark Granlund