Carl was a quiet man. He didn't talk much.
He would always greet you with a
big smile and a firm handshake.
But even after living in our neighbourhood
for over 50 years, no one could really
say they knew him very well.
All we really knew was he had worked for the
Gas Company and had won an award when
he retired for never having taken a
sick day in all his 51 years with the
Before his retirement, he took the bus
to work each morning.
As his retirement approached and he
grew older, the lone sight of him
walking down the street often worried us.
He had a slight limp from a bullet wound
received in WW II. The bullet itself
was still lodged very near his spine.
Watching him, we worried that although
he had survived World War II, he may
not make it through our changing uptown
neighbourhood with its ever-increasing
random violence, gangs, and drug activity.
How could we have known
that a Miracle limped in our midst?
Carl was in his early 70's when he
began what was to be a 15 plus years job
of caring for the gardens behind the
He was then retired and his wife had died
a few years earlier. When he saw the flyer at
our local church asking for volunteers,
he responded in his characteristically
Without fanfare, he just signed up to
do the weeding, watering and seeding
of flowers and vegetables that were
planted each spring. He was well into
his 87th year when the very thing we
had always feared finally happened.
He was just finishing his watering for
the day when three gang members
Ignoring their attempt to
intimidate him, he simply asked,
"Would you like a drink from the hose?"
The tallest and toughest-looking
of the three said,
"Yeah, sure", with a
malevolent little smile. As Carl offered
the hose to him, the other two
grabbed Carl's arm, throwing him down.
As the hose snaked crazily over the
ground, dousing everything in its way,
Carl's assailants stole his
retirement watch and his wallet,
and then fled.
Carl tried to get himself up, but he
had been thrown down on his bad leg. He
lay there trying to gather himself
as the minister came running to help him.
Although the minister had witnessed
the attack from his window, he couldn't
get there fast enough to stop it.
"Carl, are you okay? Are you hurt?" the
minister kept asking as he helped Carl to his feet.
Carl just passed a hand over his brow
and sighed, shaking his head. "Just
some punk kids. I hope they'll
wise-up someday." His wet clothes clung to
his slight frame as he bent to pick
up the hose. He adjusted the nozzle
again and started to water.
Confused and a little concerned,
the minister asked, "Carl, what are you
doing?" "I've got to finish my watering.
It's been very dry lately", came
the calm reply. Satisfying himself
that Carl really was all right, the
minister could only marvel. Carl was
a man from a different time and place.
A few weeks later, the three returned.
Just as before, their threat was
unchallenged. Carl again offered them
a drink form his hose. This time they
didn't rob him. They wrenched the hose
from his hand and drenched him head
to foot in the icy water as he tried
unsuccessfully to fend them off.
When they had finished their humiliation
of him, they sauntered off down the
street, throwing catcalls and curses,
falling over one another laughing at
the hilarity of what they had just done.
Carl just watched them. Then he
turned toward the warmth-giving sun,
picked up his hose, and went on with
The summer was quickly fading into fall.
Thankfully, things had been quiet
and uneventful. Carl was doing some
tilling and getting the rose beds ready
for their winter mulch protection
when he was startled by the sudden
approach of someone behind him.
He stumbled and fell into some evergreen
branches. As he struggled to regain
his footing, he turned to see the tall
leader of his summer tormentors
reaching down for him. He braced himself for
the expected attack.
"Don't worry old man, I'm not gonna
hurt you this time." The young man spoke
softly, still offering the tattooed and
scarred hand to Carl.
As he helped Carl get up,
the man pulled a crumpled bag from
his pocket and handed it to Carl.
"What's this?", Carl asked.
"It's your stuff," the man explained.
"It's your stuff back.
Even the money in your wallet."
"I don't understand," Carl said.
"Why would you help me now?"
The man shifted his feet, seeming
embarrassed and ill at ease. "I learned
something from you", he said.
"I ran with that gang and hurt people like
you. We picked you because you were
old and we knew we could do it. But
every time we came and did something
to you, instead of yelling and fighting
back, you tried to give us a drink.
You didn't hate us for hating you. You
kept showing love against our hate."
He stopped for a moment. "I couldn't
sleep after we stole your stuff,
so here it is back."
He paused for another awkward moment,
not knowing what more there
was to say. "That bag's my way of saying
thanks for straightening me out, I guess."
And with that, he walked off down the street.
Carl looked down at the sack
in his hands and gingerly opened it.
He took out his retirement watch and
put it back on his wrist. Opening his wallet,
he checked for his wedding
photo. He gazed for a moment at the
young bride that still smiled back at
him from all those years ago, and then
put the photo back in its place. He
pocketed his billfold once again
and went back to mulching his roses.
He didn't make it to the following spring
to see those roses bloom again. He
died one cold day after Christmas
that winter. Many people attended his
funeral, in spite of the weather.
In particular, the minister noticed a tall
young man that he didn't know sitting
quietly in a distant corner of the
church. The minister spoke of
Carl's garden as a lesson in life.
In a voice made thick with unshed tears,
he said, "Do your best and make your
garden as beautiful as you can. We will
never forget Carl and his garden."
The following spring, as the ice
thawed in the yard, another flyer went up.
"Person needed to care for Carl's garden."
The flyer went unnoticed
by the busy parishioners until
one day when a knock was heard at the
minister's office door. Opening the door,
the minister saw a pair of scarred
and tattooed hands holding the flyer.
"I believe this is my job, if you'll
have me," the young man said.
The minister recognized him as the
same young man who had returned the
stolen watch and wallet to Carl.
He knew that Carl's kindness had turned
this man's life around. As the
minister handed him the keys to the garden
shed, he said, "Yes, go take care
of Carl's garden and honour him."
The man went to work and, over
the next several years, he tended the flowers
and vegetables just as Carl had done.
In that time, he went to college, got
married and became a prominent
businessman in the community. But he never
forgot his promise to Carl's memory
and kept the garden as beautiful as he
thought Carl would have kept it.
One day he approached the new
minister and told him that he couldn't care
for the garden any longer. He explained
with a shy and happy smile, "My wife
just had our baby last night,
and she's coming home Saturday."
"Well, congratulations!" said the minister,
as he was handed the garden shed keys.
"That's wonderful! What's the baby's name?"