From the Relief Society Magazine, October 1957 –
By Frances C. Yost
Marva Owens peered apprehensively out of her kitchen window. “The children are gone!” She chided, “Why can’t they play in their own backyard?”
Marva experienced a chill, thinking of troubles she had had in other neighborhoods, when the little boys had wandered off their premises. She and Garth had put every penny they had on a down payment on this home. She didn’t want to start out first thing having troubles with neighbors.
“Less than a week in a new neighborhood, and this has to happen to me,” Marva murmured, taking off her apron, and running her hand over her hair to smooth it. As she slammed the door, almost childishly behind her, she muttered: “If mothers could only put growing boys on a leash!”
Outside, Marva hesitated. Where does one look for children in a new neighborhood? Well, she might as well try first neighbors first. The Reynolds lived next door. Garth had called him Judge Reynolds. If the boys were pestering a judge, no telling what might happen.
Should she go to the front door as a caller, or walk uninvited into the garden gate at the rear, and snoop like a bird dog for her children? “If I were making a call, I would dress for the occasion.” She bit her lip. “This is an emergency, I’ll use the rear entrance.”
She hurried, thinking of the supper preparation time she was consuming.
Marva Owens swung open the Reynolds’ garden gate, and her heart stopped at the enchantment which lay before her. The yard swept green and trim as a carpet, flanked with evergreens, flower beds, and climbing roses on the high fence. Marva thought of their own barren yard encircling their newly built home.
“Can we ever hope to have a yard like this?” she sighed.
“Of course you can,” a masculine voice answered. “It just takes a few callouses on the knees and time to grow.” He chuckled softly, then added hospitably, “Come in and I’ll show you around.”
The man stood up from the flower bed he was weeding and brushed his knees off. He was an old man; time and trouble had etched his face.
“But I don’t want to disturb you from your work, I was just wondering …” Marva started to ask if he had seen three little boys, but was stopped short.
“I’m always glad to leave a weed to grow a while and show someone around. No trouble at all. No trouble at all.” Then he added, “I suppose you’re Mrs. Owens, the new neighbor next door. I’m glad to make your acquaintance.” He extended his hand, then apologetically drew it back laughingly. “I’ll take a rain check no the handshake when my hands are more presentable.”
Marva eyed the old man. Was he a gardener, or was this the Judge Reynolds? His gnarled hands and soiled clothing had the touch of the gardener, but his speech, his fine manners? Marva wondered, but not for long. It didn’t matter whether he was a judge or a chimney sweep, the problem at hand now was to find her boys, and get them home.
“I’ll show you around the garden, Mrs. Owens.” The man with the hoe extended his arm hospitably.
Marva felt a degree of desperation. If the boys were not here she should be looking elsewhere. “I’m looking for my three little boys. They’ve strayed from the yard, and …”
“No need to worry about those three,” the man with the hoe chuckled. “If one boy tumbles into a pond of water, the other two will fish him out.” He laughed heartily and pounded the hoe he was leaning on. “Now this,” he explained, waving the hoe over a large expanse of grass flanked by shrubs and sprinkled lavishly with diamond-shaped flower beds, “is the center field.”
To Marva, hungry for landscaping which their new home needed so much, this seemed like paradise. Her eyes followed the smooth, lush lawn which sloped down to the lily pond, and below it to the long terrace covered with blooming roses. Marva noted several sorts of bridle paths taking off, as if leading to secret nooks and enchanted places.
The man with the hoe, be he gardener or judge, was motioning her to follow him, and with the other hand, had given a silence sign over his lips. Marva followed silently, and looked over the hedge into another, but smaller garden.
“See,” said the man with the hoe, “there are your three little urchins, sitting quiet as cherubs. They haven’t batted an eyelid for five minutes.”
Marva followed the gaze of the children. There, centered in the little garden, was a fountain, and a bluebird, unaware of five bird watchers, was taking a bath.
The man with the hoe motioned for Marva to accompany him to a nearby bench carved from a log, and they sat down together. The hoe was used as an arm rest, or as a pointer, or just flourished for emphasis, as he pointed out places of interest in the garden.
“I told the boys to enjoy the garden, and after the sun starts to sink, we’ll watch the evening primroses open. You must stay for that also,” the man with the hoe said.
Marva realized that she had relaxed, knowing now where the boys were. In her mind she replanned the supper. The whole family loved soup. She could cook the roast with potatoes tomorrow evening. And there was the cake she had made and the ice cream in the deep freeze.
The beauty of the place, the cool of the late afternoon, and the entire enchantment seemed to engulf her. She replied, “I would love to see an evening primrose open. I don’t recall ever seeing a primrose.” Marva felt a tinge of guilt at her ignorance of flowers in general.
“Few people have seen an evening primrose. It’s a miracle before your eyes as it opens,” the man with the hoe explained.
Just then three boys scampered through the hedge gate, and, passing Marva sitting on the log bench, shouted simultaneously, “Mother!”
“We saw a bird take a bath!” Tommy chirped.
“We’ve been playing in the bowery!” Charley explained.
“And we haven’t hurt a thing!” Marty, the elder, reported. “Oh, hello, Judge Reynolds!” Marty said, as the man with the hoe came up and sat down again by his mother on the log bench.
Well, sighed Marva secretly, at least I know that he is the Judge, not a gardener.
“You boys are just in time for the blooming,” the Judge stated kindly, looking at his watch and then at the sun sinking behind the western mountains. “Let’s go into the primrose garden.”
“Yes,” cried the three boys, with childish excitement, “let’s go into the primrose garden.”
“After Judge Reynolds,” Marva said.
The boys stepped back to let the two grownups lead the way.
“During the day,” Judge Reynolds explained, “the buds of the primrose are rolled tightly. They look sort of like light, orange-colored tissue paper pinched in little screw knobs. But when the sun goes down, the buds start slowly unrolling. Here’s the bush!” Judge Reynolds said, stopping before a gray drab plant which stood slightly higher than his knees. “Looks as if we hit it just right!”
There was complete silence among the children and the two adults, as they watched the miracle take place before them. The primrose bush, with its tiny, pinched buds, as Judge Reynolds had said, was a rather drab shrub. Then, as they watched, the buds started to unroll slowly. Each bud gave a sort of trembling in an effort to unfold at the proper time, and in its own miraculous way. Everyone sensed a slight pop, and before their eyes each bloom burst forth larger than a silver dollar, like golden showers. The once drab shrub now stood in golden glory.
“I’ve never seen anything so beautiful!” Marva Owens exclaimed. She bent to look at the beautiful waxy leaves of blossoms which were full of pollen. No sooner had the blossoms opened than moths the size of humming birds started sucking pollen from the flowers. At the sight of the moths, the boys were more excited than ever.
“See, Mother, why we like to come to Judge Reynolds’ garden!” the boys explained. “Judge Reynolds likes us to come and enjoy the garden. Don’t you, Judge Reynolds?”
“I surely do, boys,” the Judge replied, in all sincerity.
Marva looked at him and wondered about this man and his generosity. Then, turning to the boys, she said, “But not too often. We don’t want to wear out our welcome, and wear our Judge Reynolds, or his garden.” She smiled toward the Judge.
“You boys scamper down and watch the monkey do his tricks,” the Judge said. “I think you’ll find some peanuts in the cupboard. Each boy can have five to eat himself and five to feed the monkey.”
They watched the boys until they were out of sight, then Marva Owens spoke, “I’ve lived in other neighborhoods and children are, well … people put up the no trespassing sign, and enforce it. But you, you seem to welcome children! It’s most unusual, Judge Reynolds.”
“It is unusual. I haven’t always been this way,” Judge Reynolds confided.
“Years ago, Mrs. Owens, I used to yell at the children to stay out. We didn’t have any children of our own, and I … and we sort of wanted to keep the place looking its best. But the yard held a fascination for children in the neighborhood, just as it did for us. They couldn’t leave it alone. Every time we opened the back door, we would see children jumping over the hedge to get away before they were caught. The hedge was always bent down, and broken, because the children were afraid to come through the gate.
“The worst little fellow to run all over the place was Joey. Seemed this little tyke was braver than all the others. He would take chances. I can see him so vividly …”
* * * *
“There’s that little demon of a Joey in the yard again.” Judge Reynolds picked up the rake he was using, and shook it in Joey’s direction.
Joey was wearing patches. Maybe they were the best he had, maybe he was extra hard on clothes. Judge Reynolds had never tried to find out. All he had ever felt for Joey was a desire to be rid of him.
“Off the place!” Judge Reynolds shouted, swinging the rake high above his head.
Joey gave a sort of appealing, yet pathetic smile, as if trying to be friends. He didn’t seem afraid of the swinging rake; it was as if being in this paradise of a garden, with growing flowers and shrubs, was worth the battle. In front of the Judge’s eyes, with the rake swinging overhead, Joey stopped and picked a red and a white tulip. then he said, “Judge, you should raise blue ones to go with these.”
* * * *
The Judge’s voice, a bit shaky with remorse, continued: “Joey didn’t come back much after that. Guess he knew he wasn’t wanted.” Judge Reynolds took a clean handkerchief from his pocket and blew his nose, then continued. “World War II came along, and before it was over, Joey and most of the other young ones who had romped around the neighborhood were called to serve.
“One day, on the front page of our town newspaper, there was a picture of Joey, and a story telling how he had died on the battlefield. It was a story of fight and bravery. I’ve never felt quite so little as I did that day. Joey looked at me from the newspaper, with those same appealing, pathetic eyes. He hadn’t really done me any harm. Believe me, I felt more than a twinge of guilt. I would have given my very life to have had that little boy in my yard again, a chance to treat him like a human being, and not a scapegoat.”
The Judge lowered his eyes for a moment, but when he looked up, it was a smile he was wearing. It somehow reminded Marva of the sun coming out after a shower.
“Well, Mrs. Owens, that’s the day I quit pushing children around and started acting like a human being. There’s never been a child since Joey who wasn’t welcome here. And you know, since I quit chasing them out, they haven’t broken the hedge or worn the grass out in streaks in an effort to get away without being caught. And they know, now, which flowers are to pick and which are for show. I’ve proved to myself that flowers and children do mix.”
The Judge arose from the log bench and, taking Marva’s arm, said, “Come, I want to show you my favorite flower bed.”
Judge Reynolds led Marva through the hedge gate into a garden on the east.
As they walked along, the Judge explained, “You remember I told you about Joey picking a red and a white tulip and saying I should raise blue tulips, too. It’s taken years to perfect a blue tulip. Burbank and I have worked hard in our greenhouses to grow a true blue one. I keep growing bulbs in the greenhouse all summer so that I can have tulips of the bravest red, the most loyal blue, and the purest white, for this special flower bed. I want you to read the inscription here in front of the flower bed before you look at it.”
Judge Reynolds pointed to a plaque flush with the green grass, and Marva read the inscription aloud: “In memory of Joey, who loved flowers, especially tulips, who loved America, and loved to come here.”
Marva looked up from the inscription, and her gaze fell on the large rectangle flower bed sloping on the hillside. The red and white tulips stood straight and brave int heir ribbon rows, like streamers in the sun. forty-eight white tulips, like stars in the blue field, stood out, all to form the most glorious American flag Marva had ever seen.
“It’s too beautiful for words,” she murmured.
The judge nodded agreement, then said, “And that’s why boys, all boys, are welcome in my garden. That’s why it isn’t strange that your little fellows will never be considered a trespassing trio on my premises.”