Saturday, March 28, 2015

SACG Loses a Good Friend to the Garden Angels

Two weeks ago, I was distributing the annual newsletter for the Stoddart Avenue Community Garden to introduce ourselves to new neighbors and let everyone else know when we would be opening up again for the season.   As I often do, I stopped by and chatted with our only long-time near neighbor, Ms. Dee.  We joked about her landlord, Paul's, affection for beets and the new trees in her front yard.  She has her own vegetable garden in her back yard.  A few days later, I received a text that she had suddenly collapsed and she was gone just a few days after that.  Just like that.

Today, instead of opening the SACG for the season, I joined Cathy,  Doug and Burt from Urban Connections at Ms. D's Celebration of Life Service which had been organized at the Wayne T. Lee Funeral Home on East Main Street.  Lovelee Kirk (another neighbor) called me last night and asked me to say a few words.   This is what I jotted down this morning and shared about Ms. Dee with her extensive collection of family and friends.

Ms. Dee gardened with us during our first year in 2009.   It was because of her that Dwayne (and Maxcine) became the first neighbors to sign up.  That year, she rescued the pumpkins from our pumpkin patch because she was concerned that teens might smash them for fun.  She also kept an eye on the neighborhood children who would frequently cross the street coming to and from the Garden without sufficiently looking out for traffic.  Some of the kids who signed up said they wanted to have the plot next to her because she was so popular in the neighborhood.  She even sent her son Ronnie over to mow our grass.
Even after our first year, Ms. Dee continued to refer us new neighbors as gardeners, which we greatly appreciated.   After we bought our shed in 2010, she continued to keep an eye on the Garden when we weren’t there and called me at home one night to let me know that one of her sons had noticed that the shed lock was broken and the door was open.  Someone had broken in to steal our lawn mower and soil cultivator.   That’s how I learned that her real name was Desiree Stewart: it was on my caller id.  However, the look she gave me when I once referred to her as Desiree insured that I would always call her Ms. Dee from then forward.
A couple of years ago, she also came over to help me spread mulch around our new fruit trees. 
When a Dispatch reporter came a few weeks after that to write a story about the Garden, he interviewed Ms. Dee.  I was nervous, but she said beautiful things about me and the Garden.  She was delighted to see the article when it was published.  I also remember at the time how gracious she was to Homeless Dave.  He often sat with her on her porch because she didn't want him to be alone.  He pretended on that day that he could read the Dispatch article and the tv listings.  She laughed like that was hilarious.
Of course, she didn’t just look out for the Garden. She looked out for everyone on Stoddart.   She never judged anyone – or at least never indicated to me that she did.
I remember her as a peacemaker.  There was a family that used to live across the street and they sometimes got into heated and loud arguments in the street.  I remember Ms. Dee– after an argument had been going on for a while – walking out into the street.  She intervened in the argument and cooled their tempers.    Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the Children of God.
But mostly, I remember her as generally being the first and last person I see when I come to the Garden.  She was often the only person out and about when I arrived on Saturday mornings.  She always waved to me from her front porch and I waved back.  Then, when I would pack up and leave for the day, she would wave again from her front porch and I would wave back. 
It will not be the same coming to the Garden now without her friendly wave greeting me and sending me home.  And that makes me sad.

Just so you know how special she was, during the final prayer of the service, Homeless Dave (who has a last name, but I don't feel comfortable sharing it here) came in and sat in front of me with all of his stuff.  Somehow, he found out too and even though the service was scheduled at the last minute and he walks virtually everywhere he goes, he came to pay his last respects and join everyone in the parking lot to release balloons into the sun-filled sky.

Neighbor Rose was also there.  Ms. Dee once called 911 for Rose when a man forced himself into her apartment. 

She was so popular in the neighborhood that when I stopped by a bus stop to ask directions (after driving right by the place twice), one of the ladies knew whose service I was planning to attend.

She will be very missed.

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