As Summer slips away, flowers fade …

It’s funny how one little item might trigger a special memory sometimes … a person, place or thing that you’ve not thought of in many years. First it was that old willow tree that was damaged in one of Mother Nature’s many fits that she’s had this Summer. I guess we are all worn and weary from being immersed in our COVID-19 woes and Mother Nature’s miseries, a bad combo that has likely shaved a few years off my life and likely yours too.

I’ve had a few instances this year where I remembered a person from my past. I dreamed of someone or happened to think of someone from years ago – it was a strong premonition to find out something about them. In both instances they had passed away recently. It was a little unsettling.

Sandra, a fellow blogger who is an avid photographer, recently did a few posts showcasing Cosmos … no, not pictures of the universe, which would not be surprising as she often features shots of the moon. Sandra was experimenting with macrophotography and had up-close pictures of a pink, dainty-looking flower. I recognized that bloom right away – thirty years ago this Summer, there was a sea of Cosmos in the yard next door.

A little backstory – The Mystery Man.

In the 1980s, we got a new neighbor. He never said a word to my mom nor me … in fact, he’d be sitting out on his front porch at night, or on the weekends, and, if I was doing yardwork, or my mom and I came home from an outing, he would promptly turn his chair facing the opposite way. Smart women that we were, we quickly figured out he wanted nothing to do with us … so we did not exactly welcome him to the neighborhood with a tuna casserole and a chocolate cake. Furthermore, we certainly didn’t lose any sleep over his strange and unsociable behavior.

In 1988, the City tore up our street. We got letters from City Hall telling exactly what the project entailed and how long it was projected to last. The easement in the backyard was City property and we could expect it to be torn up as part of this undertaking and possibly the City sidewalk as well. I was upset as I’d spent the Summer of 1985 re-landscaping the front, side and backyard. It was a humongous undertaking and my poor AMC Pacer had to have its springs replaced from lugging home landscape ties, 2 X 4s, mulch, dirt, lava rocks … yes, I could have hired a landscape company to do that work, but I thought “how difficult could it be anyway?” It was a job for much younger legs, but I digress ….

This neighbor left for work before I did, never had people over at the house and, if he and I happened to be closer than twenty feet away from one another, i.e. doing yardwork or shoveling snow at the same time, he scurried into the house before we could make eye contact … he was a bit of a mystery man.

Our good friends/neighbors across the street had a double lot and it was here the construction crew chose to park their heavy machinery in the backyard at the end of each workday. The lady of the house, who prided herself on her longstanding and beautiful perennial garden, tearfully came over the first night and asked if she could park her perennials in our yard until the project was over? We said “of course but what if they likewise rip up our easement area?” She and her husband purchased multiple five-gallon buckets, filled them with dirt and carefully “replanted” each of her clumps of Coneflowers, Daisies and Black-Eyed Susans, then nestled the buckets on the mulch in my backyard between my plants. I had the same exact flowers – it looked like a nursery back there. She promised to water them – I told her not to worry, I would take care of them like they were mine until she reclaimed them. I guess my motives were selfish – all the time I figured my good deeds may mean my backyard was spared.

The construction project was in high gear in August, in the Dog Days of Summer. The dust flew as heavy machinery tore into the easements of neighbors across the street from this house. The casualties were not just to gardens brimming with produce and perennials … a neighbor on the corner had a heart attack when he returned home from work, only to find his prized rock garden, perennials and veggies had been ripped apart. He dropped to the ground and died on the spot.

A little miracle.

A few days later the City sidewalks across the street were munched by the heavy machinery. I cringed when I saw the mess and how the metal jaws came perilously close to tree trunks along our tree-lined street. I was in the backyard watering all the flowers, when the mystery man stalked over to the fence. He didn’t introduce himself, no niceties here, but he pointed at the buckets of flowers and said “where did you get those flowers?” I explained the situation and he gave a little grunt and said “I don’t care for flowers – you spend time and money on flowers, then they die off.” Being raised to be nice to my elders, but also gritting my teeth a little, between clenched teeth I responded “well they brighten up my yard anyway.”

Half expecting him to walk away after my curt comment, he stood there looking at me. It was awkward to be sure. A long moment of silence passed. I felt the need to say something … like maybe introduce myself or welcome him to the neighborhood. But before I did so, he blurted out “they’re doing that sewer replacement job all wrong – I work in construction and you watch … we’ll have flooded basements and all the trees’ll die. Look how they plowed into the roots!” He was all wound up and I said “well good thing you and I don’t have a tree on City property and they must’ve forgotten to work in our backyard for which I’m grateful.” He just kind of grunted, turned and walked away.

Well, as he strode toward the house, I was tempted to say “by the way, my name is Linda and my mom’s name is Pauline … and you are?” But it was too late for that.

Flash forward a year, give or take a month.

The mystery man drove an old, rather beat-up, light-blue, nondescript car. He always parked out front and that vehicle leaked like the Exxon Valdez. In Winter the car never moved, but I now knew it was because he worked in outside construction. There had been no conversation since that day when he spoke his mind. I’d be outside, nary a hand wave, mouthing “hello” – none of the niceties that you do to at least attempt to be polite and neighborly.

But as Spring finally sprung, there was another element added to the mystery man puzzle, when suddenly I noticed a compact car and a stranger, a young man who owned that car and I saw him going in/out of the mystery man’s house. It was Springtime by now and orange barrels were everywhere and construction had started up for the year, yet I noticed the mystery man’s car never budged week in and week out. My mom and I discussed this and wondered what was afoot, but we weren’t going to ask.

I was working in the back garden when the young man came to the fence, introduced himself as Nicky and said he’d come to live with his father, Nick, who had recently been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. I said I was sorry and told him that in all the years he’d lived there, I never knew his dad’s name and told him the gist of our conversation back in 1988. What had just been a rather solemn moment after Nicky relayed his father’s medical diagnosis, suddenly he burst into hearty laughter. He said “Dad never spoke to you since he moved here – no way!” I said “no” and added “he turned his chair around the other way so he did not have to look at my mom and me when he was outside.” Once again Nicky roared with laughter. He then said “please don’t take it personally” then explained that his parents divorced and afterward his dad declared he was “taken to the cleaners” and swore he’d never talk to a woman again. The exception as to women was Nicky’s sister who lived in Indiana with her minister husband.

Nicky told me he was going to law school in Cleveland, Ohio but had transferred to Wayne State University Law School in Detroit to attend classes there while taking care of his dad. He had hoped to do a clerking internship that Summer to help get (and perhaps guarantee) a job with a firm after graduation, but when he moved in with his dad, he realized that was not going to be doable, so he’d just see what was available after he graduated from law school and passed the bar exam. He concluded by saying “family always has to come first – Dad has no one else and my sister has to be there with her husband.”

So, that was the first of many over-the-fence talks Nicky and I enjoyed that Summer. We also argued in a friendly way, as we debated the fate of Lawrence DeLisle, a local father who drove off the pier at Bishop Park, Wyandotte in August 1989, taking his wife and four little children with him. Lawrence DeLisle’s “story” was his gas pedal stuck and thus the car plunged into the Detroit River. The four children drowned, but his now ex-wife, survived. Lawrence DeLisle’s trial was in June of 1990. There was friendly banter across the fence for the duration of the trial, as Nicky, the third year law student and Linda, the litigation legal secretary with a decade of trial support experience already under her belt, debated – each of us had our own opinion. It was a lively nightly discussion as we watered and weeded our gardens. In the end, just as I predicted, DeLisle was found guilty and is still in jail thirty years later. The sordid and sad story can be found by clicking here.

Oh yes, by the way did I say gardens … plural?

Gardens and flowers at Nick’s house? Nick, that mystery man, who hated flowers? Yes, indeed. In the Spring as I gently uncovered my perennials’ tender shoots and removed the yard debris, Nicky said he had had been admiring my perimeter gardens since moving in. He told me he decided he would do the same in their yard to cheer up his ill father. Gulp! Dare I tell him about Nick’s disgruntled comment about flowers or keep that to myself? I decided on the latter. I said “oh, that will be nice Nicky – he’ll appreciate that.”

[A little white lie never hurt anyone.]

So, Nicky worked his butt off to create similar perimeter gardens as mine. He spaded away the grass, lugged home bags of topsoil and packets of seeds. Lots of packets of seeds. He decided on Cosmos flowers because they were fast growing and colorful. Nicky had method in his madness … he aimed to have those Cosmos up to the top of the cyclone fence as quickly as possible. He told me he wanted to surround the yard in color to cheer his dad up.

The seeds were planted and tended by Nicky with TLC and lots of Miracle-Gro. Secretly, I hoped the bunnies would not seize the opportunity to eat those tiny shoots as Nicky was hell bent on creating this garden for his dad to enjoy in the time remaining as cancer ravaged his body.

I caught glimpses of Nick in early Summer – he was a slight man before, but now he was gaunt, bent over, barely walking and one day he shuffled to the chair in the yard, prompted by Nicky to see the flowers. I was pulling weeds and glimpsed this out of the corner of my eye. Nick clung to Nicky’s arm, then lowered himself slowly into the chair. Nicky pushed a table close to him, then said he’d be back in a minute with a cool drink. While Nicky was gone, Nick rested his forearms on the table, then laid his head down and wept, long racking sobs that I was sorry to have heard and witnessed. He did not see me there, so this time it was my turn to scurry back into the house to give him some privacy. I burst into tears once inside the house … the scene really stirred my emotions.

Despite Nick’s initial attitude toward Mom and me, things changed that Summer.

My mom had surgery that Summer. It was a hip revision, a complicated procedure wherein the original hip prosthesis was removed and a new prosthesis put in. In my mom’s case, the stem of the prosthesis had come loose. It required a long operation and a ten-day hospital stay. Every night after work I’d go up to the hospital. On the weekend, I’d spend the day there. On several occasions, I’d come home and Nick was sitting on the porch and in a wavery voice asked: “how’s your mother doing today Linda?” I’d give a brief report and then as an afterthought he’d ask “how are you doing?” I was touched and a few times my eyes welled up from the stress and worry and answered in as calm and steady of a voice as I could and said “I’ll tell her you asked for her Nick.” I had never called him by name before, but yes … it was time to do so. And no, I could not bring myself to ask how he was doing … besides, I got a daily report from Nicky.

When Mom came home from the hospital, I took a leave of absence from work, using personal time and vacation time to stay home with her for three weeks. Nicky took it upon himself to make dinner for us every night. He’d come over near the kitchen window and yell out what he’d cooked that day and ask me to put on my oven mitts and meet him at the door in a few minutes. He was an excellent cook, having spent each of his college Summer vacations working at a resort. He quipped that he was afraid my cooking might send Mom back to the hospital.

Meanwhile it was late July and Cosmos filled the perimeter of the yard.

The Cosmos grew taller by the day and soon they were grazing the top of the cyclone fence. The blooms were a riot of hues in pink and purple, bobbing their delicate heads in the breeze. I told Nicky one night, as we watered our gardens and chatted companionably over the fence, that his sad mission was accomplished. He nodded, unable to say anything and tears filled his eyes. My eyes misted up seeing him.

Nick passed away a few days later.

The estate was wrapped up quickly. Nicky, a weight lifted from his shoulders, awaited taking the bar exam, but not for Michigan, but Florida. His heart was not there for studying for the exam, but he had to move on, without the advantage of having clerked at a firm in conjunction with school. He was able to get into the Prosecutor’s office in Miami and left for Florida a few weeks later. On moving day, he came in the house to say goodbye and hugs were exchanged and tears flowed freely.

Afterthought.

I pass by the Cosmos you see in the pictures above every time I walk to the Park. I snapped these photos, not really thinking about Nick or Nicky and that Summer of 1990. But oddly enough, just a few days after I took these pictures of pink Cosmos in the ‘hood, fellow blogger Sandra posted her pink Cosmos photos and it was while gazing at those flowers, the memories came flooding back. I told Sandra how her post had triggered those sad memories and she urged me to write this post. Thank you if you’ve read to the very end.

Postscript – I finished proofreading this very long post and switched on the radio to hear the news – Ruth Bader Ginsburg has passed away from the same type of cancer as Nick. I have always admired her. She was a fighter in many ways. May we please find a cure for this horrible disease sooner rather than later.

About Linda Schaub

This is my first blog and I enjoy writing each and every post immensely. I started a walking regimen in 2011 and decided to create a blog as a means of memorializing the people, places and things I see on my daily walks. I have always enjoyed people watching, and so my blog is peppered with folks I meet, or reflections of characters I have known through the years. Often something piques my interest, or evokes a pleasant memory from my memory bank, so this becomes a “slice o’ life” blog post that day. I respect and appreciate nature and my interaction with Mother Nature’s gifts is also a common theme. Sometimes the most-ordinary items become fodder for points to ponder over and touch upon. My career has been in the legal field and I have been a legal secretary for four decades, primarily working in downtown Detroit, and now working from my home. I graduated from Wayne State University with a degree in print journalism in 1978, though I’ve never worked in that field. I like to think this blog is the writer in me finally emerging!! Walking and writing have met and shaken hands and the creative juices are flowing once again in Walkin’, Writin’, Wit & Whimsy – hope you think so too. - Linda Schaub
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42 Responses to As Summer slips away, flowers fade …

  1. Sandra J says:

    Isn’t it amazing how a word or a photo can bring a memory that may have been lost for a time in our minds. The way you wrote this Linda, it should be a book. It is written in a way the reader can picture every moment of the story. You put the reader right there in the story as if it is a mini series or documentary with how you write. Just excellent writing and a true story on top of it. You have so many best sellers waiting to be published.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Good morning Sandra – thank you very much for your comments – they make me feel good about my writing and I am glad you urged me to tell this story. I know this is a very long post, but I really wanted to include all the moments, both funny and sad … they all seemed important as part of Nick and Nicky’s story. I wrote this post shortly after our comments in your first Cosmos photos, but held onto it a while then I just edited it a little and added the Ruth Bader Ginsburg note on Friday night. Thank you again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a beautiful story. I’m glad he warmed up to you. Having people in your life is better than not having them. His son was a good man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you – I am glad you liked it Kate. I agree – Nick Sr. was so dead set against having anything to do with us. His son was a good man. We lost touch after he moved to Miami and started a new life. He called a few times but then he got very busy at work. He returned to Michigan and worked in the prosecutor’s office about 70 miles from here. He is no longer listed there per the State Bar Journal. It appears he has retired.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That was a lovely story.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. alison41 says:

    What an interesting and touching story. Thanks for writing it

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Beautifully written story, Linda! Your neighbor was lucky to have a kind and caring son to take care of him and plant some floral cheer during their sad summer. Pancreatic cancer is viscous. Several people close to me died from it. Hopefully there will be a cancer cure some day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you so much Sabine. I have thought of Nick and Nicky through the years, but never as much as seeing those delicate Cosmos in Sandra’s posts. He was lucky that his son moved there to take care of him. I was happy those flowers bloomed for Nick’s final days. I think that pancreatic cancer is the most devastating of all cancers. I wish they would find a cure for cancer and put off research for the moon and other planets and other less worthwhile endeavors.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. ruthsoaper says:

    I really enjoyed this post Linda. I can’t imagine why anyone would not have finished reading. You words drew me in, like Sandra said, I felt like I was there. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you very much Ruth. I thought perhaps the length of the post might put people off, plus just a few pictures made for a lot of “gray matter” so I am glad you felt that need to finish the story and see how it ended. Unfortunately it had a sad ending. Nicky has not been back to the area as his Dad is buried in his birthplace state of Pennsylvania and his sister lives in Indiana.

      Do you remember the DeLisle tragedy? I happened just five miles from me. I included the article but a high school friend of mine who follows my blog by subscription reminded me that there were four kids involved – I had forgotten about the baby. Thanks again for saying how much you enjoyed the post Ruth.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. AnnMarie R stevens says:

    Miss Linda………………………………..that was a beautiful story about Nick and Nicky and your mom……………………and of course Nick’s Cosmos flowers…………………….it is a sad story………………….but look at the hope Nicky had wanting to plant those flowers for his dad………………….thank you for sharing your story……………………..I enjoyed it………………..you are a beautiful writer…………………………..yes I remember the DeLisle family tragedy off of Biddle and Eureka……………………….I lived on first street near Goddard Rd. in Wyandotte and a DeLisle family lived on the corner…………………..probably a cousin………………………….they wouldn’t talk about it to anyone

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you Ann Marie – I am glad you enjoyed the story, even though it was sad, because it had a few joyous moments as well. I remember the hot August night of the DeLisle tragedy and we had the news on – all the details, so sad. I did make an error in this story which I’ve corrected – there were four DeLisle children – I read the news story I attached, but in my mind’s eye, I saw those three children in that picture and forgot the eldest boy was holding the baby. Yes, probably the relative did not want to discuss the story – probably still would not want to.

      Like

  8. You are so excellent at telling your stories and observations. Such a shame that this is such a sad one, though. But I wonder how Nicky’s life turned out… And if he’s still growing cosmos.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. bekitschig says:

    What a touching story Linda! I’ll leave on a high note though – [A little white lie never hurt anyone.] 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you Jeanine. I am glad you liked it. I was afraid it might be a little too sad but decided to write about it anyway. I totally agree – sometimes you just go with the flow, cross your fingers and “keep your yap shut” … American expression for shut up.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. What a touching story Linda. I always enjoy your memories and I think you should write a book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you for saying that Diane. Even though it was thirty years ago, the memories of that Summer were clear as a bell. Lots of dynamics going on inside and outside the house. That would be fun to do and I am sure I could find some more memories in my memory bank to do just that.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Sartenada says:

    Hello Linda.

    I am dumb after reading this awesome story! Thank you. It took over my mind and I began to devour the text as the story progressed.

    Have a good day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you Matti – I am glad the story captured your interest and you wanted to read until the end as it definitely was one of my longer posts. You enjoy your day as well! We are having beautiful Autumn weather here in Michigan; I hope Finland is enjoying similar weather.

      Like

  12. This is a beautiful story, Linda. Thank you so much for sharing it. We never know how or when people will change or when our stories will intersect with the stories of others in unexpected ways. I was captivated until the end. Well written!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you Barbara – I am glad you enjoyed it. With such a rocky start to our friendship with Nick, it was nice that over the course of a few months we got to know him and his son. You are correct – people’s lives intertwine in the most unexpected ways sometimes.

      Like

  13. Laurie says:

    What a beautiful, poignant story, Linda. How sad that Nick was hurt so badly by his divorce that he swore never to talk to another woman ever again. I’m glad he finally relented, but it’s too bad that it took a cancer diagnosis to make him relent. I wonder what happened to Nicky. Do you ever hear from him?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you Laurie – I have thought of Nick and Nicky from time to time, but never thought to write about our relationship until I saw those Cosmos flowers. Yes, it is sad Nick, Sr. was reluctant to even speak to my mom or me and went out of his way to avoid us. As to Nicky, he applied to the Prosecutor’s Office in Miami. He told us there were several openings and they hired him even before he took/passed the Florida Bar Exam. He called us from time to time and relayed some of his work stories – there was a lot of crime in the Miami area at that time (1990) and he was working 12 hours a day and learning on the job, going into court as soon as he passed the bar. After the first year we exchanged Christmas cards for awhile and even that dwindled. I looked him up in the “Michigan Bar Journal” every year when the directory came out (now it is online) and I learned he returned to Michigan and worked as an Assistant Prosecutor in 1995. He worked and lived/s about 75 miles from here. I knew he would not return to visit – he had no relatives except his sister who lived in Indiana. Per the online Bar Journal, he is no longer at that position and his address given for his bar license is a home address. He is five years younger than me. From Google I learned he married and has three children.

      Like

      • Laurie says:

        He was a good son to come take care of his father when he was sick.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Linda Schaub says:

        Yes he was Laurie. He was in his third-year of law school, out of state, so already a trying time in his life, but he came home to take care of his father. He was in the Peace Corp when he was younger. He was, in my opinion, more mature than most young men that age … kind of like the student you wrote about in your recent post. Exceptional young men.

        Like

  14. J P says:

    What a touching story with a happy and sad ending all at once. I have never lived in a place with such close-knit neighbors. But my previous neighborhood was one of small houses and small lots so it was easier to see people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Glad you enjoyed this story JP. It was uplifting to get to know this father and son, albeit just for a short time. Our houses are very close together in this neighborhood, especially this one. Nicky standing in his yard under the kitchen window to announce dinner was ready tells you how close we lived. Today, people pass away on the street … people who have lived here since the houses were built in the early 60s and no one even acknowledges their passing, let alone take up a collection for flowers.

      Liked by 1 person

  15. Joni says:

    What a spell-binding story Linda! So well-written, it’s like I was there with you on your street. So sweet of him to make you supper and move back home to look after his dad. I’m left thinking though that perhaps people (and neighbours) were kinder back then in general? Sometimes people just seem selfish to me these days and preoccupied with their own lives. A new younger guy moved into the house beside my mothers, and she was sitting on her veranda one day when he was outside and she said hello to him, and he just grunted at her. He doesn’t even mow the lawn half the time, it’s a mass of weeds, his dad does it and he’s very unfriendly too and has never spoken to either of us. And yet she used to have lovely neighbours on that side. All the others on the street come and go, and you never meet them, maybe a wave once in awhile. PS. I don’t have any Cosmos in my garden, but you’ve inspired me to add some, esp. as they grow quickly and I love the pink color.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Linda Schaub says:

      Thank you Joni – I am glad you liked this post. This was such a surprise when we met Nicky because we had all but written off his father for the same reason as your mom and her new neighbor. That is the same way here too now … I can remember when new neighbors moved in, people would go over and introduce themselves and their kids (and inquire if they had kids the same age, etc.) I can remember that you took some kind of “welcome to the neighborhood” dish or a cake. Those days are gone. People used to collect money for flowers if a neighbor died. Down the street, the woman, one of the first to move into the neighborhood when houses were built in 1963, died last October. She was 94 I believe and I would not have known she had died except the “for sale” sign went up so I Googled her name and obituary notice. Her husband died five years before and no one collected then either. I didn’t see him sitting on the porch with her, so I Googled for a death notice. How sad is that? When she passed away, I learned their daughter, a one-time playmate of mine, died in July of 2019. She had MS for a few years and died from complications of MS. The Cosmos grow very quickly and a few days ago I was taking some pictures in the neighborhood of a harvest display and next door, they had Cosmos that were almost as tall as the house. Like Nicky, they probably used Miracle-Gro on them to get them that tall. He just used seeds so his were really impressive in a short amount of time.

      Liked by 1 person

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