15 Mayıs 2023

Tollie’s Garden Pt.1


I was seventeen, almost eighteen, when Tollie moved into our small apartment above the carriage house. I didn’t pay much attention at first when my mom rented it to him. After moving into the huge house we inherited from her grandfather, my great-grandfather, I was too busy trying to fit in at my new school. Being the new girl wasn’t easy. It felt weird, two people living in a mansion with white pillars at the entrance, wisteria growing up to the third floor and a big Dutch door, you know, the kind where the top opens and the bottom stays shut–it was pretty cool. We had a big stone wall in front of the property with ivy growing up the sides. The long driveway curved in the front of the house and you could drive in one way and out the other way. The house had fifteen rooms, four bathrooms and four fireplaces. I had a fireplace in my bedroom and so did my mom. I also had my own bathroom and the kitchen was huge with a pantry next to it that had shelves and cabinets all the way to the ceiling. It was a shock inheriting that big stone house after living in a small row house in Hoboken, New Jersey then suddenly moving to Chestnut Hill, a ritzy part of Philadelphia. Mom’s brother Steve, inherited a lot of money because we got the house–don’t know how much–but her grandfather’s will had one strange stipulation for each of them. They would get the same amount of money from the trust each year that showed as income on their tax form. The will said he wanted them to know what it is to work for a living rather than just have money they didn’t earn. So my mom had to earn money in order to get any money from the inheritance and that made it a challenge. The problem was that my mom had always been a waitress, never went to college, got married to my dad because she had me, then he took off with some woman when I was three. For a while, I got birthday cards from him, but that was it. It was painful when they stopped coming, and I always wondered why. How could he forget his daughter? So the mansion was a mixed blessing and we felt a little out of place. We had a beautiful, luxurious house but, at first, barely enough money to make ends meet. That’s why we rented the carriage house to Tollie for five hundred dollars a month and that helped a lot. My mom got a job in a pretty swanky restaurant called the Blue Moon, not far from where we lived and made good money–the problem was it was mostly tips and some weeks were better than others. The other stipulation was we couldn’t sell the mansion because mom’s grandfather had loved the house and wanted to keep it in the family. So we were stuck with a beautiful home and a large property that needed maintenance. We closed off the third floor to save money. Just keeping the grass cut, paying the utilities and taxes and making sure we didn’t let it fall apart was a big job. It was also weird living in that house and not being friends with any of the neighbors. They said a polite hello if they saw us, but we were not in their class and never got invited to any dinners or anything else, not that I cared. I thought they were snotty and phony with their big houses, big cars and fancy clothes. Still, we weren’t broke by any means. Eventually, my mom made pretty good money and it got matched from the trust so we did okay. We weren’t starving and Mom was able to get rid of the old Subaru we had and got a newer model Volvo and we were both able to buy decent clothes. I have to admit, I loved clothes and wanted guys to like me, and if you didn’t dress a certain way at school, you were an outcast. Also, kids knew where I lived and I wanted to give the appearance that we were better off than we really were—not sure why. So, Tollie moving into the carriage house was a necessity, and the income really helped get more money from the trust each year. Mom interviewed him and told me his name was Anatole, but Tollie was the name he preferred. He seemed like a nice man and he loved to garden. He asked if he could put a vegetable garden in our big backyard and flowers Erenköy escort bayan alongside of the carriage house and he would take care of cutting the grass and share the vegetables with us. Tollie was quiet and kind of shy, but friendly. I didn’t pay much attention to him. He’d wave hello when I came home from school and I’d see that he was either cutting the grass or working in his garden. He also trimmed the big hedge on both sides of our house and there were lots of bushes. I found out from my mom that he was twenty-eight when he moved in—ten years older than me. She said he was a writer and had taught for a while at a community college while working on his PhD in English. He had finished all his course work and was working on his dissertation, but then decided he wanted to write poetry and a novel he was working on, so he dropped out of the program. Mom told me he grew up on a farm, was home schooled, but got into Harvard anyway and had a fellowship. He talked a lot to my mom. She invited him for coffee and she was always making cookies and meals for him. Even though she was twenty or so years older, I think she had a crush on him. It seemed weird, but I didn’t really think about it that much. Still, I could see why. He was actually good-looking with longish brown hair, a beard, and wore wire-rimmed glasses, a little nerdy but nice. Like I said, I didn’t pay much attention to him. I had more important things to think about, like applying to college, and this guy Tristan, who I was crazy about, and just keeping up with my classes. I was determined to get into a good college and not end up being a waitress like Mom. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, or what I was interested in, but I was in AP English and Biology and got good grades. Getting into college was everyone’s obsession. There weren’t many options after high school, so researching colleges, taking a prep class to prepare for the SATs and filling out the applications was a full-time job. I was also a cheerleader, believe it or not. I liked the exercise and wearing the short skirts. It was kind of sexy and fun getting everyone to cheer for our football and basketball teams. It was also a good thing to have on my college applications. Other than school and babysitting for this snotty woman up the street, I worked on my tan in our big backyard and would lie out there on a blanket with my best friend, Janine, both of us in skimpy bikinis. I’d see Tollie working in the big garden and he’d glance over at us, but mostly he concentrated on digging and planting and whatever else he did. He worked hard, had a lean, tan body and looked good in his cutoff jean shorts and a T-shirt. He was in pretty good shape, probably from the gardening, and he biked everywhere. He didn’t own a car. When he wasn’t working in the garden, he’d sit on a canvas folding chair in front of the carriage house and write on a thick tablet or his laptop. Every once in a while he would look up at us, but mostly he didn’t pay much attention to me and I didn’t pay much attention to him either. To me, he was just an older guy renting our carriage house and we hardly spoke. Sometimes, late at night while I was studying, I’d see him writing or reading and when I’d leave for school in the morning, he’d be out in the garden, usually barefooted. He’d smile and wave to me when I left for school in either Janine’s or Tristan’s car. Often, my mom made extra food for dinner and asked me to take some to him, so I’d drop off the food, sometimes chat for a minute, then leave and that was that. I think it was her way of getting him to like her, you know, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” She had to be at the restaurant by four in the afternoon and always made food up ahead of time for me. She was a good cook and made great soups, stews or lasagna. When I’d bring up a covered dish, he’d always pour a glass of wine and ask if I wanted any. I always said no and he never made a big deal about it, but I liked how he Escort içerenköy looked at me, not flirting, just warm and friendly, a sweet smile. He always had music playing, sometimes classical, sometimes jazz. I liked how he fixed up his place. It was small, but he had floor-to-ceiling bookcases on two of the walls, lots of hanging plants and a bird feeder outside of his window. He had a beat-up green couch with an Indian-style blanket over the back, a big old maroon chair with a small table and lamp next to it. A pile of books and magazines sat on the table and the floor. His laptop and notebook were on a round oak table by the window—that’s where he wrote and ate. His bed was in the corner and always made. It was one room with a faded oriental rug in the center, a small kitchen area with a little refrigerator, a sink, and a four-burner stove. He told me he liked to cook. I also noticed a wine rack with bottles of wine. One night near the end of my senior year, he asked me to join him for dinner. He said he had made some soup and he wanted to talk to me, so I thought, why not and said yes. That was the first time in the almost two years he lived there that we actually had a conversation and I’m glad I did. He served me a curried vegetable soup and a small salad with lettuce and spinach from the garden and a wonderful dressing—just oil and vinegar with a variety of herbs. I’m not sure what, but it was delicious. He poured me a glass of red wine and we clicked glasses. When he said, “To life,” I noticed how his eyes twinkled behind his glasses then disappeared into little slits when he smiled. “So what did you want to talk about?” I asked, after sipping the wine. He put his glass down after taking a sip, stirred his soup then looked at me with that smile on his lips. “Sarah, I’ve lived here for almost two years and we have never really had a conversation. I know you’re busy with school and your friends and I see you’re a cheerleader and getting ready to go off to college in the fall. I’ve gotten to know your mother quite well. We’ve had lots of conversations, but I want to know you.” “You do? Why?” I was really surprised. He chuckled at my reaction. “I want to know what you’re passionate about.” “Passionate about?” His question stunned me. “That’s a strange question.” “What do you love?” He lifted his wine to his lips and took a sip. “If you could do anything you want with your life, what would that be?” “I don’t know what to say.” My mind was racing to think of something and I realized his question scared me. “Why do you want to know?” He smiled, knowing by my question that I was avoiding answering him. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, or what I loved. I didn’t want to tell him how much I liked shopping for clothes, so I told him I liked cheerleading and was interested in some of my classes, though most of it was doing what I was assigned. I didn’t think about loving my subjects. I just did them. For a few minutes, we were both silent, eating the soup, taking sips of wine. He looked at me, and I don’t think anyone had ever looked at me like he did. I felt he was really trying to see me, know me, and it aroused something in me to feel his caring. So I asked again, “Why do you want to know what I love?” “Because I want you to be happy and I know you will never be happy unless you know what you love.” “Are you happy?” I asked, still bewildered by what he said. “Very.” He smiled then took a sip of his wine. “Really?” I noticed the twinkle in his blue eyes. “Yes, I love to garden and I love to write poetry and stories, and I love the quiet and I love watching the birds at the feeder and seeing the flowers bloom and the vegetables growing. I’m very happy.” “Aren’t you lonely? I never see you with friends. Don’t you want to love someone?” “Sometimes I’m lonely and yes, I would like to love someone and be loved. I do have friends. They don’t live around here, but we stay in touch and a dear friend is going to visit here this Sunday. I’m really Tuzla escort looking forward to it.” “Great,” I said, wondering if it was a man or woman but didn’t want to ask. “And I hope you find someone to love you. You seem like a really good person. I hardly know you, but I can tell by the way you work in the garden and how I see you writing all the time. I admire that.” “Thanks, Sarah.” He smiled and nodded. I looked at the little table with the lamp next to the soft chair and saw a big manuscript and a thick notebook. “Is that your novel?” “That’s the one I’m working on now, but I have a few others. Mostly I’ve been writing poetry lately.” “Have you been published?” I asked, looking back at him. “No, maybe one day I will, but I just want to write. Hardly anyone has read what I’ve written.” “Don’t you want to be read? Don’t you want to be published?” “I do want to be read and one day I’ll be published, but it’s not that important to me.” My eyes were drawn to his manuscript and I was curious. I liked to read but only had time to read what they assigned in school. I wanted to ask if I could read his novel, but didn’t. “I’d like you to read my novel,” he said, as if reading my mind, “but I know how busy you are. Maybe one day you will read some of what I’ve written. I’d like that.” He looked at me then continued, “I hope you find what you love to do, what makes you happy in your soul.” “My soul? What do you mean?” I wasn’t religious and never thought about my soul. “I mean what makes you happy deep inside so that you feel fulfilled, alive regardless of whether you make money or not, something that really means a lot to you and gives you purpose.” I finished my wine and the soup and saw it was getting dark out. “I better get going. I’ve got to study for my history exam.” He nodded, then leaned forward and looked at me with such caring and warmth. His eyes sparkled and it felt like he was seeing deep into me. No one had ever looked at me like that. It made me tingle all over, and I felt like I was glowing.  “I enjoyed having dinner with you,” he said. “I did too,” I responded, suddenly feeling reluctant to leave but knew I had to. “This was nice.” When I got up, he walked me to the door that led to the stairway to the garage below. “Let’s do this again,” he said. “I think you’re very beautiful.” I blushed when he said that and swallowed. “Thank you.” I liked how he said that. It was so sincere and sweet. When I walked back to the house, I glanced up at the window and saw him clearing the table and looking down at me. He waved and I waved back. Standing there, I knew something special had happened. No one had ever asked me before what I loved, or felt passionate about, or looked at me like he did, but somehow he awakened something in me, made me think not just about the question of what I’m passionate about, what I love, but about him, how he lived so simply and loved what he was doing and didn’t seem to care if he was published or even need anyone else in his life. He seemed happy and peaceful. I had never met anyone like him. He was no longer the man who rented our carriage house and worked in the garden. He mystified me. I wanted to know more about him. The next morning, I had to rush. I’d stayed up late studying and slapped off my alarm clock when it rang and went back to sleep, then woke up with a jolt, got dressed, threw on a pair of jeans, a new tank top, my sandals and hopped into Janine’s car, eating an English muffin and trying not to get crumbs on me. She had parked right in front of the carriage house and I saw Tollie in the smaller garden on his knees. He looked up and waved, and I waved back through the open window just as Janine turned us around in the driveway and rushed away. I suddenly remembered the nice evening I’d had with him, and how I was feeling more connected to him in a strange way, but Janine interrupted my thought by telling me that she and her boyfriend Alex had a big fight, so I listened to her. Mom never got up early after working at the restaurant and I knew she and the staff always had a meal and a few drinks after they closed and she’d hang out for a while. Who knows when she came home or what she did. She always left for work before I got home from cheerleading practice or whatever, so sometimes days would go by when we didn’t see each other.

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