When I came to Ivey Ranch, heart held in front of me raw and scared, I didn’t have any idea what I was doing there. I only just knew I needed a garden, they had one for me, and by Jove, I was going to grow things.
Richard is one of the first people I met once I got there. He is the reason I made it. Without being asked, he offered to till my soil, wet my weeds for pulling, wire my gates against renegade bunnies, holler if my son wandered too near the road by his plot. Without his help I would have ended up worn out, burnt out, and ready to quit within weeks of my plot lease. But Dick was there every warm morning with a smile and a joke and, if I asked, humble but accurate advice on just about every thing from weeds, to corn worms, to kids.
“Hiya, trouble!” I’d call when I got to the plots and saw him with his knee pads on, working away on his own plot or some newcomer’s who he thought needed encouragement. “How’re you?”
“Fat, sassy and happy!” he’d tell me every time. I knew the answer. That’s why I always asked. I tried not to worry when he’d have a coughing fit while I admonished Eamonn not to pick the green tomatoes, worried over my watermelons, and bemoaned my plethora of squash. I’d listen to him joke and laugh with every single gardener there. He’d ask after kids, grandkids, plants, and pets. He’d give a hug and tell a joke any time you’d need it. I had to fight with him to get him to take some of my organic plant food when he demanded to know how I’d gotten my corn so tall.
“Over my dead body will you pay me for that food, Mister! It’s time for a little payback!” I’d holler at him with a foot stamp.
“Do you see??” he’d ask anyone listening, “Do you see what I put up with?”
I really, really love Richard.
Rumor has it, it’s lung cancer.
We all try to water when we can, pull his weeds when there’s time, pile up his harvest for his neighbor to deliver when there are things to pick. Everyone’s worried and no one’s quite sure what to do. But the feel of the whole place has changed. It’s pensive, and it’s quiet, and we all throw glances at that empty plot where no one is hollering out sass and encouragement like he’s supposed to be.
It is amazing how one man can shape the face of a place and how his lack can make it so empty. When I consider it, I ache.