A fruitless exercise


Volleyball Grandpa let the screen door slam behind him as he left the house and headed across his lawn towards the court, giving me a one hand wave along the way.  He wears flip flips and jean cut-off shorts; his skin is brown to the point of being crispy from spending so much time tending and playing his beloved game.  It is unclear what came first, Volleyball Grandpa or the volleyball court.  The only certain thing is that he is the unofficially official ruler and overseer of the park and the volleyball court contained within it.

After four years of living in rather close proximity, I think he is starting to recognize me.  The pregnant waddle and belly certainly helps his ability to pick me out of a line-up.  When he waved, I felt like I was being recognized by royalty.  I have yet to be invited to a volleyball game, but there is still time for that particular honor.

From my observations, VG spends most of his time playing volleyball, prepping the court or chasing off prospective court infiltrators. He lovingly rakes the sand in the court and edges the grass around the perimeter, he picks up sticks and drags heavy fallen tree limbs towards the road for the street crew to pick up at the end of each week.  He goes so far as to put out bright, yellow cones between the stop sign and park entrance stating, “Slow Down.  Kids play here.”

What the sign might say to convey his personal message more clearly is, “Keep driving if you are looking for a volleyball court because this one is taken but do it slowly.”  VG is not above calling the police on vehicles that fail to heed his warning which occasionally prompts the presence of a cop car and a stake out of the area for rolling stops and speeders.  Absolute criminals, in VG’s mind.

Earlier this summer, a day came when maintenance and policing of the park was no longer enough to keep VG satisfied in his civic duty.  And perhaps out of an overgrown sense of ownership, VG decided to try his hand at horticulture.  (Why not? He had the undisputed space of the entire city park.)  It was then that a pathetic fruit tree appeared with a black, protective plastic around its base and a few branches barely strong enough to support the flock of three sparrows that took up immediate residency at the top.

Every day, VG watered the little tree and then put on his magnifier glasses to inspect the branches for pests which he pinched off with two fingers and shooed the birds off with his skinny arms.  People walked by the little tree in wonder of its sudden appearance and later with an even greater amazement when the little tree began to flower and produce peaches.  The little tree was a literal head turner. 

“After just a few months of being planted, how it that possible?” I asked my husband, somehow expecting an answer to the unknown. 

I suspect that Miracle Grow may have played a hand in the incredibly early and health growth but will give most of the credit where its due.  Mother Nature was at her finest, combining the elements to create little peaches that given time would have become juicy and delicious fruit.  Unfortunately, it is an opportunity that will have to wait until next Summer.  Between the birds and the people of the trail, it wasn’t long before the tree was stripped bare.

So VG is back to tending the volleyball court and I am back to watching him.  Not even with VG’s best efforts could he protect his tree from the forces of the world, a risk he knowingly took.  Yet, he still gained pleasure in caring for the tree, watching it grow and bear fruit.  He didn’t need to eat the fruit to know that it would have been good and he doesn’t need to get permission from the park to know that he will definitely try again next year.  

Maybe next year, he will add a cherry tree.

Party in the Park or Time is Relative


Hotdogs and hamburgers sizzled on the grill over a pile of red hot charcoal. Bags of chips lined up on the picnic table like soldiers in a parade.  They fell in order with the potato salad and deviled eggs, between a glass container of sweet relish, ketchup and jar of spicy mustard.  Bottles of soda huddled together on the next table, keeping the patriotic cupcakes and a mountain of cookies in good company.

Red, white, and blue balloons bounced in the wind, tied to the corners of the covered pavilion.

A handful of people in matching red shirts milled around the food, nervously glancing between the dark sky and their watches or phones for the time. Few people wear watches anymore, and even fewer do it for the sake of keeping time any more.  Now watches are used to track steps, count calories and deliver messages; telling time is an afterthought with all of the new more interesting functions and features of other technology today.

In any case, I still wear an old fashioned watch that can only tell the time and date, and occasionally still glows in the dark but will never flash a text message or take an incoming call.  Although, the crystal face is scratched to the point that my mother saw it and gasped that I should be ashamed of wearing that old thing, I still faithfully wear the watch on a daily basis.

I looked at this tried and true keeper of time on my wrist and back at the empty picnic tables with a sinking feeling. The party was five minutes underway and not a single guest had yet to arrive.  Two already texted their lame excuses as to why they would be unable to attend, which left 32 RSVP’d and unaccounted for bodies that should be filling the space under the shelter and starting to eat all of this food.

Clouds gathered overhead and drew closely together, like sheep in a corral chased by a nipping dog. They blocked the bits of blue sky that previously peeked through their fat, fluffy cloud bodies and a light drizzle started to fall against my protests.

I paced and continued to avoid eye contact (chalk it up to social anxiety mixed with preference to avoid conflict/disappointment) with the volunteers who so graciously gave up a Saturday afternoon for this event. It was either going to pour rain or no one was going to come or both.  There were no other options, I catastrophized in my head that which clearly was not a catastrophe.

Then, the sky broke and the sun shone over the first of the party guests who suddenly appeared from around the edge of the park. Party goers began to emerge from every direction carrying umbrellas, babies and one soccer ball.  Someone brought a bag of chips to join with the others on the table and another person produced a bag of grapes from their backpack to share with the others.

Soon everyone was there and I stopped looking at my watch.

Time is relative, especially for a group that doesn’t care much for appointments or punctuality. What matters is the quality of experience, not what time something starts or how long it lasts.  After all, a late start is better than never beginning.

I left the park with a bag of cubed watermelon, a handful of cookies, exhausted and with a full heart.

My party guests showed up.

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