The back yard was stunning, and filled with flowers, vegetable gardens, and fruit trees all neatly laid out and growing prolifically. We started down a path into Eden leading strait from the back door to the rear of the property. We passed between two fig trees and he stopped. “Yall are gonna pick peaches later, right.” He pointed to the far right and I saw two peach trees.”
“That’s what aunt Chin said.” I reported
“Den, would you remyyne her to get deez figs her too. See deez are ripe and need to be gotten off da tree dis morning b’for some damn burds come peck at’em.”
“Sure’nuf.” I said, copying a phrase, used widely by my French relations. We continued down the path and one side of the path were two well tended rose bushes in bloom. The opposite side had some sort of garden of greenery neatly sectioned off, and enclosed in a scalloped red brick border. “What’s these plant?” I quizzed.
“Dat dere is Chin’s fresh herbs.” He responded pronouncing the “h” in herb.
“Is that the same as an herb?” I inquired, not pronouncing the “h”, and as I did I regretted it. I felt stupid at once. It was an honest question for a split second, as I really didn’t know for sure what he meant. But by the time the question had been posed I realized of course “H”erb and herb were the same. Plus now it sounded like I was correcting him.
“Is dat not what I said” he looked down at me and I avoided eye contact, not knowing if he was perturbed. “Anyways,… you and Chin no doubt, well be pickin some of deez for cookin too.” I wanted to make it better so I complimented him on the beautiful yard. “Tanks.” was his only minimal response as we walked slowly on.
So I thought to elaborate. I was thinking, besides regretting my big mouth, and remembering my parent’s caution, of another yard soo lovely and well placed, where every plant seemed to be producing vivid lush flowers and fruit. My late grandfather, my dad’s, dad, had been famous for his green thumb. I had never seen his farm, one that the old folks used to talk about, as he had sold it before I was around, but their house and large yard had looked like garden Wonderland. I remember my dad telling me that grandpa planted by the moon. I would find out later in life what that meant. So I asked Uncle Gus. “Did you learn how grow things from Grandpa?”
At this he stopped at a gate in a back fence and turned back to survey his lovely yard, slowly perusing the view. “Indeed my litta’ man, my father surely had de gift for growin tings.” I could see my question pleased him. “But your Momma and Daddy, dey garden too, no?”
My parents did garden also and did well at it. And I enjoyed helping them and learning. But there was more to this place. There was the same magic to Gus and Chin’s yard as their sweet little house. I confirmed the inquiry. “Yes they do, we all do, but our yard doesn’t look as good as this, or like Grandpa’s was.”
Gus was still looking day-dreamily at his splendor, “Well in time it may. Chin an I been her tirdy (30) years.” With that we entered the next area with a swing of a gate, another magic kingdom awaited. Remember when Dorothy opens the door of her house to the colorful land of OZ? well that’s what I thought of. I delighted in what looked like a tiny quaint village. The path continued but curved some and branched in a few directions to some ordered diminutive huts and buildings, all dotted with well-shaped bushes, flower pots and flower beds, and a weeping willow tree. Some, accented with gingerbread design, were painted in the same color scheme as their house, and others in different pastel presentations. I honestly almost expected to see Hansel and Gretel come skipping up the path dropping bread crumbs from a basket.
Gus noticed me looking, “You do not have to help Chin kill dem hen’s you know.”
“I’m wondering though now, how she does it different.” which was an honest answer.
“Chin knows what she’s doin dere. Dat’s why I let her do it. Her daddy had an egg farm, so she’s growed up doin dis.” Gus’ statement just made me more curious. “C’mon we got some sweepin to do.” Gus returned me to the tour. Across the back of the property was a nice sized building. It was built up off the ground like their house and I thought someone must live here. “Dis is my workshop,” Gus announced ascending the steps and opening the door. I was looking way off to the right at the end of a little dirt path at a tiny white cute little hut off by itself. “Oh, dat is de toilet.” Gus explained. “It’s de outhouse.” I looked up at him with furrowed brow.
“Why?” I bid, “if you have a bathroom in the house…?”
“Cause sometyymes I’m out her workin and don’t feel like goin to de house, or maybe my feet is muddy or sometin, and cleaning them to go inside for jus a minute, is too much trouble.” That seemed pretty smart to me.
We entered the shop. Wow again I thought. Even at seven years old I knew this was any man’s epitome of the ultimate work space. The whole building was mostly one open room, with four large windows around the walls. And on top was a skylight. Next to the skylight was a long series of florescent lights. The center had a huge long work table which had a table saw built into the end, and a lathe on the side. My dad had smaller more portable versions of each of these, so I knew what they were. Various tools of all sorts hung around the walls and between those were shelves filled with all manner of stuff. Unlike everything else I had seen this morning THIS place was fairly messy, tools sitting out, saw dust everywhere, paint and stain cans and rags on the floor, and table. The messiness was welcome. I was beginning to feel a little unworthy of all the tidy beauty of their place, so this made me feel a little more at home. It was just enough of a flaw to make it all more human.
At one end of the work table opposite the saw were four curved unfinished table legs lying next to apparently the slightly oval ornate table top. “Dis is de littla’ coffee table I’m building.” Gus took me over to see. He had some wood clamped into a space and some carving tools laid next to it, it had a light drawing on it matching a pattern drawing on paper off to the side. “See her is finished corners.” And he showed me three carved pieces matching the drawing. He was about to carve the fourth. The table legs were to fit into joint spaces already built into the coffee table top. And these carved pieces would cover that. It would truly be a pretty little table as he had said. Then he pulled a sheet off of something set off to the side of the room. It was a beautiful pecan colored étagère with the same carved accents.
“Oh I see. It matches the coffee table” I proclaimed and was proud I noticed. I felt sort of manly out here talking over carpentry in the shop.
“Yes,” he continued, “And I will make an end table to match too.” He showed me some planks of good lumber not yet cut.
“Is this all for aunt Chin?” I assumed, “Is it a surprise?”
“Oh no son, we can’t fit anudder stick of furniture in dat house. THIS is all for a paying customer, an she’s gonna give me some good amount a’ money for it too.” I had to know so I asked how much, not knowing if it was a rude question or not. “Right ner a tousand bucks,” Gus answered with obvious pride, showing me it wasn’t a rude question but the expected one. I was visibly astonished with highly raised eyebrows. Gus itemized, “four for de shelf, tree for de coffee table, an two-seventy-five for de end table…nine hunnerd seventy five piastre!” Piastre (pronounced simply pee-AHS) is the word most everyone in southern Louisiana uses for dollar…and I’m not really sure why, just a slang I suppose. I think Uncle Gus wanted to show off his beautiful craftsmanship, and was pleased with his moment of glory in my eyes.
“Now,” he looked down bending over me just a bit with both hands up palms facing me. The gesture seemed to say “listen”. “If you want to,” he was offering me an out, “would you help me sweep up dis whole place?” I looked around. It was a BIG room, and a lot of saw dust, and I really didn’t want to. But I thought it would’ve been rude to say so.
“All of it,” I had to ask
“Well you do half and I do half.” He showed me another broom he had already out there, besides the one we brought. This seemed a better deal to me.
“Oh OK then” I conceded, not meaning to show my relief at not having to do the whole room.
Gus instructed me to sweep the right side and he’d do the left. “…and we meet in de middle. Anyting on de floor in your way,” he pointed at some paint cans, “jus move and den put back after you sweep by. Den…” he called my attention to a small oil drum looking can…, “we sweeps it all up and dumps it in her (here).”
The can had nothing but sawdust in it so I asked, “So this is the trash then?”
“No,” Gus corrected smiling, “I jus tole you. Dis is de sawduss.”
“Are you saving it?”
“Yessir we are.”
“What on earth for?” I had much to learn, and as the years went on tact was certainly one of them
Gus squatted down to where our eyes were level “Because, my litta’ man, sawduss is great to use all number of ways.” Later that day I’d see how useful it is to cover paths through a vegetable garden.
So we swept, and swept, and swept, and the room seemed to grow. As we got closer to each other in the middle I went to make conversation. I was thinking how much Chin and Gus’ kids must have learned from them. “Are your kids all growed up?” it was an innocent typical kid’s question.
Gus didn’t answer right away. “Chin and I, we did never have any chillren.”
Then I once again passed the boundary of my mother’s caution without thinking. “WHY NOT!” I exclaimed.
Gus stopped sweeping and leaned on the broom handle a moment facing me. “Well.” he said, “it’s jus somtin God decided-- dat we didn’t need to have chillren.”
“That’s dumb. Why would God decide that?” I was not understanding my own insensitivity.
Gus finally decided to help me understand. He put a board on the sawdust can and sat down a minute. “Comere cher,” he motioned for me to quit sweeping and join him. “Why God decides anyting is not for you or me to question. God has reasons. Now does dat still break mine an Chin’s hearts? Yes it does, cause we would have loved to have wonerfull chillren like you. And Chin, …t-boy, don’t mention dis to her. Dis has been her big sadness in life. But we are happy, and God has bless us in many udder ways”
By this time I had grasped the situation, and the tears were not going to stay in “I didn’t mean to upset you Uncle Gustan.” I blubbered out.
Gus took me into his arms and hugged me “Aww now man, you didn’t, and I didn’t mean to upset you eider.” He just hugged me for a bit. Then he released me and looked me right in the eyes. “Now it’s all good, eh?” he got up and found me a clean shop towel “here, blow you nose, or you will have sawduss all stuck to de snot on you face.” I laughed that nervous laugh of relief kids do when the crying’s over.
We went back to the sweeping for a bit in quiet. Gus broke the silence, “Tanks for helping me, I needed to get all dis shit off de groun, so I quit slippin, an slidin, an trackin it all over de place while I work.”
“Sur’nuf.” I affirmed. In a few moments more we were done.
“Good work we jus done!” Gus stated as he offered me a handshake. Then he added squatting down again. “Now…, why don’t you take dis broom back to Chin. I know if she gonna make pies she need to get on it, and get finish wit dat oven before de day gets any hotter.” I now understood why she wanted to get that done first. Gus continued, “And she want you to help pick peaches.” I hugged him excitedly, He tousled my head and sent me on my way.
Sunday Drive: Stand by Me
2 days ago