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Meredith smiled at the thought of this young handsome man’s knowledge of English tea gardens.
“I’m here every Tuesday and Friday, watering, weeding, pruning. Sometimes I stop by on Sundays, too, to check on my gardenias. They are very delicate. I don’t mind working weekends, not much else to do in Mobile but work.”
“My mother and I will be working in the office of Moran Munitions.”
“Oh, I know Mr. Moran. Nice wife. I think her name is Maureen. Can’t say much for him. Doesn’t have a blade of grass on his property. Poured concrete over everything. ‘Too much to keep up,’—I’m quoting now—‘working 80 hours a week.’ Anybody working 80 hours a week is crazy, and anybody pouring concrete over perfectly good grass is really crazy, don’t you agree?”
“I hope not. He’s not only my boss, he’s my mother’s second cousin. I pray it’s not hereditary, even though it would explain a lot,” she chuckled.
He chuckled back. “Well, nice meeting you.”
She hesitated: “Umm, could I ask a favor? I’m a bit of a gardener myself. Could I borrow a few tools on the weekend? I’d love to plant some vegetables, just enough for Mother and myself. Shouldn’t take up much room. Maybe 12x12?”
“Sure, help yourself. I leave everything here on Friday evenings in the shed. The door is always open. Not much to steal.”
“Thank you so much. You don’t know what this means to me. A patch of ground to call my own. By the way, my name is Meredith Sullivan.”
“Nice t’meet you. I’m Andrew Nuttall. Round here everybody calls me Dewey.”
“Which do you prefer?”
“Well, actually, nobody ever asked me that before, but I truly do prefer Andrew.”
“Well, Andrew, I thank you again. I’ll start tomorrow.”
Saturday was hot, humid, and oppressive to the regular citizens of the county. Meredith was up before the humidity took a nasty turn from oppressive to crippling, and began digging her garden. She pushed her weight against the spade to turn the earth, then hoed and raked to loosen and prepare the soil. She fertilized it, then staked and strung the rows. When the temperature hit 95 degrees, she went inside, showered, then took a ride into town. She found a seed store, bought packets of carrots, broccoli, squash, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and lettuce. She also bought several packs of marigolds to surround her garden as bug repellent. The lettuce should have been planted weeks ago, but she didn’t care. She wanted to reproduce the garden of her childhood, all of her favorite vegetables picked ripe, eaten sweet and tender. This would be a summer to bless.
“Bless This Mess” was being hammered over the kitchen window. “About time you came in, girl. You will die in this heat.”
“I’ll plant the seeds after sundown, Mother. Found a store in a real nice commercial section. Looks like a couple nice restaurants, a shoe store, hardware store, library. Let’s go out to dinner so I can show you.”
“Is there a church nearby?”
“Yes, Mother, I think it’s a Methodist.”
“Methodist? Where’s the Baptist?”
“Didn’t see one, but I’m sure there’s one somewhere close by.”
“Sure hope so. ‘Nearer, my God, to Thee’” reverberated, shrill and past her range, throughout the kitchen.
“What about the restaurant?”
“Waste not, want not, child.” We’d better get that first paycheck before we treat ourselves to dinner. Wash up, now. Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”
Meredith gritted her teeth as she wound through the apartment, trying to remember where the bathroom door was. Bowing down to the yellowed sink, she washed her hands and prayed to the only god she trusted. “Daddy, if you have any clout up there in heaven, please call her home. I’m so tired of trying.” Fatigue and regret sat heavily on her five-foot frame, causing tears to flow. “Give me strength, oh Lord, give me strength.” She remained in her penitential bow for several minutes while the salty pearls ran across her hands.
They started the job on Monday. Mundane, trivial work, but two paychecks would cover the rent and essentials. Andrew was right. Mr. Moran—Jimmy, her mother called him—was a bit of a tyrant to the rest of the employees but had a soft spot in his heart for his cousin. The day dragged until five o’clock, they were home by five fifteen, supper by six, and gardening until so late she couldn’t see.