One evening recently, I wasn't feeling well and wanted to get home from my job at Southminster. I knew a hard freeze was coming, and I needed to get the rest of the sweet potatoes out of the ground at the garden on the property, right away. So I gathered some containers and gloves and headed to work, because the garden was calling.
While I was there a resident came out. He started chatting me up and all I could think about was how cold I was and how much I wanted to get the work done. Then he asked if he could help. He wasn't very stable on his feet, but insisted that he “man the pitchfork.” The work came to a near- grinding halt. I patiently watched as he struggled to get the fork in the ground and turn the bed.
The sun was quickly vanishing and the only thing lighting the garden was the headlights of my car parked in the grass nearby. He struggled with the fork, insisting he had it. While he heaved big mounds of soil over, I pulled the roots off the potatoes and piled them into the containers. He talked about the farm he grew up on and how much he loved working it. How he wished he had never left there but that life called him away from home, and how he never found his way back. He talked about how bored he was now, and how all he wanted to do was work – but that there wasn't any work to be done. He said he didn't want money, but that he just wanted to be useful.
I work a lot, and I imagine that someday, if the day ever comes that I stop working, that I will be quite sad about it. Truly, as tired as I am, as much as I would like a break sometimes, I do really love to work. I too like to be useful.
By the time we finished pulling up 78 pounds of sweet potatoes and carrying them to my car it was completely dark. The man was having a hard time seeing, reaching his hands out in front of him to make sure he didn't run into anything, or to protect himself from a fall. I asked him to take my arm and I led him home. That’s where he gave me a hug and thanked me for giving him a “job.” He told me he would report back whenever I called on him. And so I drove home – with cold hands, and with an extremely happy heart.
Kris Reid is executive chef at Southminster Retirement Community, was the former food coordinator at Carolina Farm Stewardship Association, and is a graduate of Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte. Southminster is home to one of more than 50 Friendship Gardens in the area. Last year, the gardens brought more than 6,000 pounds of fresh vegetables to Friendship Trays, Charlotte’s non-profit meals on wheels program.