Wednesday, April 30, 2008
Origins Of The Greenest Thumb On The Block (How The Polish Lady's Father Survived)
Flickr.com illustration, Polish prisoners of war, 1939
The Polish lady's green thumb is legendary on the block and beyond...
...and all the more amazing considering her garden thrives despite the beer cans hurled into it from the house next door, along with shoes, footballs. The "problem tenant" gangsters take over the whole block, intimidating the neighborhood, but the Polish lady will not so much as retreat into her house.
She will remain behind her fence, tending to her flowers with a hoe, while the other kinds of "hoes" flag down johns for car dates, while crack is smoked in the buildings nearby before I boarded them up myself, and called in to get official boards. Gee, I should mention a condemnation notice was posted a few days ago right over one of my "unofficial" boards, the one on the "House Of The Mournful Teddy Bears." I couldn't help but see that as a tiny, accidental endorsement...though it was one of my better boarding jobs.
I remembered to tell the Polish lady I had been responsible for dropping off the pot of flowers from lovely Constance, the real estate agent. The Polish lady exclaimed she had asked "everybody" but had "no idea" where they were from. She LOVED them!!!
"They'd never survive in my hands," I explained. "So I figured it was better to pass them on to you."
The Polish lady said she'd taken the flowers inside. They would have frozen from the cold snap. We began chatting, and I asked if she had inherited the house from her father. It turned out she had purchased it with her husband back in about 1964. The house was quite old even at that time.
She talked about how troublesome neighbors had shouted at her, "Why don't you leave? Why don't you just sell your house?" When she got mad, she said, she would say things in Polish. She couldn't help it.
I had remembered, however, about her mentioning gardening in the soil at the house with her father, and finding horseshoes from the old stables.
"You learned gardening from your father, right?" I asked.
Oh, yes. Her father had been in the Polish army, you see, and had been captured by the Germans, held prisoner for all of World War II. Her father wasn't treated too badly, all things considered. He had a job tending vegetable gardens growing food for the German Army. So there were often opportunities to avoid malnutrition and get enough food, because of the vegetables.
She dropped this little nugget of information casually. I thought, is it any wonder this woman is capable of tending to a garden under the very worst conditions? She must consider it nothing compared to the conditions her father endured, while "gardening for the Nazis."
I thought how I would like the whole block to be beautiful, like the Polish woman's garden.