It was a beautiful spring morning. The birds had been singing for a couple of hours and Bartholomew was singing, too. “Go tell it on the mountain, over the hill and engines there...” Whatever song or words came into Bartholomew's head he sang. He was in a good mood because today was the day he and all of his friends were going to plant their garden.
“Oh Oliver,” said Bartholomew to his cat, “this is so exciting! I can't wait to plant some kale.”
Oliver jumped onto the sofa and laid down, “I hope you weren't expecting me to help?”
“I wish you could join us! It would be so much fun to have you there with everyone else. But I know, you don't like the outdoors.”
“No,” said Oliver, “the outdoors is for animals.”
Bartholomew reached into the closet and pulled out a hat and a pair of work gloves. He went quickly to the kitchen and packed some snacks and a couple bottles of water. “Hmmmmm...mmm... Oh give me a home where the buffalo roam and the skies are not cloudy all day. Home, home is so strange. Where the deer and the cantelope plaaaaay! Where seldom is heard a disparaging word and a guy can eat kale… aaaall...daaaaay!”
Oliver buried his ears under his paws. Bartholomew ran by the sofa, patted and rubbed Oliver on the head much too vigorously, and skipped to the door. “Good-bye Oliver.”
“Please, leave before you say 'yippee-skippee' again.”
Bartholomew slammed the door behind him.
Claire and Ned were already at the garden lot when Bartholomew arrived. They had ridden bikes and they each had spades, small hand trowels and matching brand new gardening gloves. Bartholomew thought they looked cute together.
“Hi, Claire. Ned,” said Bartholomew.
They both said “hello” back and then Claire pointed to the street where Charlotte was just driving up. Charlotte, whose window was rolled down, waved at them. Like a reflex, they all waved back.
“Ready to plant?” Bartholomew asked Claire and Ned while Charlotte parked her car.
“Yeah!” yelled Claire. Ned nodded while pulling at his dreds.
“Wow, you guys have been busy,” said Charlotte, as she carried two metal rakes and nodded at a bunch of plants already in the ground.
“That's Mr.McBardon's plot,” said Bartholomew. “He put that in last weekend sometime. I don't think it took him long, it just appeared one day.”
“He wasn't kidding about that hedge,” said Claire, eyeing the taller plants around the perimeter of the plot.
“I don't think it will keep out rats, but you sure can tell where his plot is,” said Charlotte, referring to a comment Mr. McBardon had made earlier.
“Well, lets mark out the garden and where everything is going,” said Bartholomew, pulling a tape measure out of his pocket.
“Hey, where's Topping?” asked Claire.
“He's working on Bartholomew's car,” said Charlotte. When she was starting the sentence she felt a little regret that Topping was busy and didn't come to the garden with her. But as she finished the sentence she remembered that Topping was doing something cool for Bartholomew. “He said he would be here before noon.”
The group of friends started to lay out the perimeter of the garden with string and stakes. Bartholomew energetically took the lead in measuring and identifying corners, etc. The rest, seeing how excited he was, gladly did what he asked. As Ned was driving one stake into the ground, he hit a hard spot. It was probably a rock, but the prospect of pounding into an underground gas line ran through Ned's head. An image of himself being hurled in six different directions appeared before him.
“Hey, Bartholomew, did you check on the property and all that stuff? There aren't gas lines or anything underground, are there?”
“Mr. McBardon was in such a hurry that he said he checked things out and everything is fine. There isn't anything underground except, judging by that pile Mr. McBardon made, there might be rocks.”
Ned moved the stake slightly to one side and pounded it in to the ground wondering if he could trust old Mr. McBardon. He assured himself that they are not planting very deep. Anything utilities underground would be much deeper – probably.
As they were just about finished with the layout of the garden, Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine pulled up with a rented rototiller and a trailer full of soil. Uncle Jeffrey honked the horn. Everyone turned and waved.
“You’re just in time,” called Bartholomew as Uncle Jeffrey was busy untying the rototiller.
“This looks great!” encouraged Aunt Josephine to Charlotte “And look, you already have plants coming up!”
“Those are Mr. McBardon's,” explained Claire. “He planted those last week.”
“Oh,” said Aunt Jospehine as she wrinkled her nose at the tall plants encircling his plot.
Bartholomew and Uncle Jeffrey pulled the rototiller out of the back of the truck and wheeled it over to the garden.
“Did you check on the property and utilities?” asked Uncle Jeffrey.
“Yeah, well, actually, Mr. McBardon checked because he wanted to plant last weekend and he said it was all good.”
Uncle Jeffrey looked over at Mr. McBardon's house and wondered if he could trust him.
In no time, the tiller was running and churning up the ground. The dirt was compacted and everyone took turns using the tiller, except Aunt Josephine. They left pathways between areas of the garden that Bartholomew was going to mow once a week. As the rototiller finished an area, people would come behind with metal rakes and shovels to break the dirt up even more and to remove rocks. They then would add new soil and the tiller would come back and mix it in.
It was a lot of work and Even
before lunch time they finished, but everybody was so tired that they
took a break. Uncle Jeffrey and Bartholomew hoisted the tiller back
into the truck to return it to the rental store.
As everyone headed back to Bartholomew's house, a car turned onto the street and honked at them. Bartholomew stopped in the middle of the road, his eyes wide with disbelief. He knew his car would look different when Topping was done painting it, but nothing could have prepared him for this. Topping drove up in a 1974 Peugeot with flaming vegetables streaming off the front of the car and tumbling their way down the sides. Red and orange flames licked out from behind green peppers, carrots and tomatoes. There on the hood was the most amazing thing of all: a flaming leaf of kale spread from side to side. Everyone was laughing and cheering and admonishing Topping for doing an amazing job. Topping had risen to the occasion.
Everyone gathered around the car as Topping parked it along the curb. Bartholomew still stood in the middle of the road, his mouth agape. Topping cautiously approached him.
“Well, Bartholomew, what do you think?”
Bartholomew didn't know what to say. It was the most amazing car he had ever seen. He had thought flames would be cool, but Topping was right, Bartholomew was not thrilled by the original idea. But this, this made everything perfect! Now his car had cool flames AND all the vegetables that he loved.
Bartholomew stepped forward and gave Topping a bear hug. “Thank you,” he said into Topping’s ear. “It is ah-amazing.”
Bartholomew and Topping escorted each other to the car with their arms around each other’s shoulders. Bartholomew studied the detail of the flames and how they seemed to be licking at the surfaces of the vegetables. He noticed the surface detail in the carrots and the many, many, many folds in the kale leaf on the hood. He was lost in some of those folds when he felt something on his leg. He looked down to see a small pug dog humping his left leg. He moved his leg and knocked the dog to the ground. It was up immediately humping his leg again. Bartholomew shook it off a second time and the little dog mounted Topping's leg. Topping laughed and moved his leg to knock the dog off.
“It's Hump-Pug,” said Ned.
“What? Hump-Pug?” asked Bartholomew.
“Yeah,” said Ned. “This dog has been around town the last month or so. It just keeps trying to hump things all the time. People just started calling it Hump-Pug.”
Topping laughed as Hump-Pug mounted him again. He pushed her away again. Hump-Pug ran to a nearby lamppost and did her thing. Everyone started laughing.
“C'mon, let's go inside and eat. I brought pizza,” said Topping. “I got vegetable pizza for you Bartholomew.” Bartholomew imagined the vegetables on the pizza in the hot oven catching fire and then being thrown onto and becoming the skin of his 1974 Peugeot. Beautiful. As they walked into the house, he noticed Hump-Pug humping the mailbox.
Bartholomew, his friends and his family had pizza and beer and talked about recipes they would like to make from the vegetables harvested from their garden. Charlotte and Bartholomew agreed to share recipes and to cook together once a week. Topping liked that idea. Claire wanted to try a recipe called Carrots Marguerite. She had seen it made on a cooking show. Aunt Josephine and Uncle Jeffrey regaled them with stories of food they had eaten at weddings and other parties. By the end of lunch, Bartholomew was sharing how his parents used to cook. How his mom would forage food from the neighborhood parks and public spaces-- apple trees, current bushes, elderberry nectar and... Uncle Jeffrey and Aunt Josephine gave Bartholomew a stern look. He stopped talking about his parents and suggested they head back out to the garden to plant the seeds and seedlings he and Uncle Jeffrey had picked up earlier that week.
Everyone filed out of the house to the garage where the plants were stored.. Bartholomew had expected to see Hump-Pug but she was nowhere in sight. The group headed down to the garden with plants in tow. Uncle Jeffrey drove off with the tiller to return it to the rental store. Arriving at the garden, Topping said, “Wow, you guys have gotten far. You even have plants coming up already!”
“Those are Mr. McBardon's,” said everyone. Everyone laughed.
Bartholomew directed the planting effort. He gave a quick training in how to plant the seeds and the seedlings. They each selected plants and consulted with Bartholomew where they were to plant them. Charlotte and Aunt Josephine paired up to plant the tomatoes. Bartholomew and Topping went to plant potatoes. Claire and Ned stayed put and planted some lettuce seeds.
There was light chatter amongst the planting couples, but after a short time everyone heard Ned say, “What's wrong with planting them here?”
Claire responded, “The package says two to two and half feet.”
“This is two to two and a half feet! Geez.”
“Well, it needs to be right. It should be back farther.”
“Fine, plant it where you want it,” said Ned as he rose and moved to where Bartholomew and Topping were planting. The three of them planted without talking. Claire finished where she was and then joined Charlotte and Aunt Josephine. They all spent the rest of the day moving from place to place within the garden planting their seeds and seedlings.
Uncle Jeffrey arrived and went to Mr. McBardon's house to set up a hose for watering. Mr. McBardon was providing the hose, sprinkler and, of course, the water for the garden. It was a very generous gift. Uncle Jeffrey pulled the hose over to the garden like he was hauling a long thin python. Soon the dirt darkened as the water droplets fell on the tilled soil. The beds were completed when Bartholomew filled the last one with kale seeds.
“There,” said Bartholomew as he lightly tamped the ground and stood up.
As the shadows began to grow long, everyone stood curbside and looked at the fruits of their labor. The whole place smelled of wet earth. Before them spread a fresh patch of soil filled with hope. Bartholomew could see it already, green plants willing themselves out of the brown earth, growing larger with each passing week until they were ready to be gathered, brought to the kitchen, prepared and devoured. He couldn't wait.
“All right, everyone,” said Aunt Josephine, “back to Bartholomew's house for some dinner. I'm cooking.”
A cheer went up. Seven weary bodies headed up the street, past a freshly painted car and into the house. Some collapsed in the living room. Others went to the kitchen to cook. They all felt good about what they had done. They talked about the afternoon and about the differences between seeds and seedlings. As the sun was about to set, Bartholomew went to the door for one last look. There, on the curb, was his car – a flaming vegetable mobile. It made him smile. He turned to see Topping who was laughing as he told a story to Claire and Uncle Jeffrey. Bartholomew felt his chest grow as he took in a deep slow breath of appreciation. He gazed down to the garden, there, at the end of the block. In the dark shadows of approaching night he could make out the patches of tilled soil, the pathways and a low hedge of plants at the back. He turned his attention to the people in the house – his friends and his family. Again, he felt his chest grow as he took in a deep slow breath of satisfaction. Satisfaction at having planted the garden. Satisfaction at having found some real friends. And a deep satisfaction that he was, slowly, making his life into what he wanted it to be.
Bartholomew heard a noise outside. Across the street he could barely discern a small little four-legged something thrusting itself against the base of a light pole. There was a yelp and then it was gone._____________________________________________________________ Written by Mark Granlund
Illustrated by JM Culver