When I was troubled 13 year old and alone, a friend came to me. He was a new friend. Unexpected but most welcome. He became my best friend.
We went to his house and met his mother, Yvonne. She was a tall stern-looking woman with round glasses and a hint of steel gray running in tiny streaks through her long hair.
When she spoke to me for the first time, I knew I had come home. And so it was for all of her son’s friends.
Yvonne was secretly amused by the craziness of raising six children, especially teenage sons for whom the world was a vast, reckless mystery, despite their genius, duplicity and ingenuity. She was wise, but never deprived us of our mistakes. Yvonne was strict, but she never let the rules prevail over decency and kindness. Or her boundless love for you. You did not want to disappoint her.
How strong was Yvonne? She walked in the winter to a church four miles away. She walked to two jobs that were even farther away. In better weather, Yvonne rode her bike. She made the best of bad situations. In a place built by and for machines, she was a throwback to simplicity and unshakeable faith and perseverance.
When you heard her laugh…well…you never wanted to hear any other sound again. It was a sweet rain in a dry, dusty place. It was a gale in drought. It was the final veil to fall from a woman to proud to quit.
Yvonne was a gardener. I would watch her plant seedlings before the frosts broke. I watched her worry about rain and pests. Her patience with that garden was infinite, and, at the end of the season, her reward was a splendor that she shared with all. You see: Yvonne did not grow things for herself. She did it all for others.
And a better gardener of young souls I will never know.
I would never call her “Yvonne”—I would address her respectfully as “Mrs. Zalinski”. As a 40 year old man sharing a meal with her, I cleaned my plate and never left a cup half finished. I minded my manners. I curbed my sardonic tongue and gratuitous profanity.
I call her “Yvonne” now only because I must say goodbye. It is a last loving act in a relationship—a relationship that built a young, uncertain boy into a man who values friendship and love above all else. And she gave us (me) Nick, who is also a great, inscrutable and humble gardener of people.
Thank you, Yvonne, for being my gardener. I know “why” now…at the very end.