In the blue-collar neighborhood where I grew up lived an old Italian couple named Polly and Menta who loved children, sunflowers, Italian music and each other. Right there in the middle of our concrete city, Polly and Menta had cultivated a lush vegetable garden, complete with hand-spilt bean poles, trellises, Italian fig trees and tomato plants, two rabbits, three cats, five chickens and a raggedy old rooster that could barely crow. It seems odd now, but the whole neighborhood loved that rooster, and we loved Polly and Menta too. Menta was short and quiet, with big hands, gentle brown eyes, and a perpetual smile. He wore flannel shirts, red long johns and faded bib overalls year ‘round. Polly was taller, straighter and more outgoing than Menta. LIke the big yellow sunflowers in their garden, Polly had a sunny disposition that lit up our neighborhood and our lives. She could speak English, too, a skill Menta had always admired but somehow never acquired. It’s amazing how much you forget from your childhood. But somewhere in my mind’s eye there’s a special place that can always picture Polly and Menta working side-by-side in their garden. I can see them putting on their gloves together each morning. Smiling and planning their day. Feeding the birds that came to sing for them. Shooing the cats away from the chickens. Saying grace together over a lunch of fresh beans, tomatoes and onions from the garden, and then dozing and smiling in the afternoon sun, sometimes holding hands. I remember when our family dog was hit by a car. Polly and Menta knew that my little sister and I were sad. When we walked ny their garden on the way home from school, they both called to us. “THe rock candy is ripe,” Polly shouted, “You should come in and gather some.” They led us to a shady corner of the garden, where—sure enough—we found rock candy strewn here and there amongst the real rocks in their garden. Nothing could have raised our spirits more. Years later, when I returned home from college, I decided to go over to Polly and Menta’s house early one night. I knew that Menta was growing frail, and I hoped to visit with him I if their lights were on. Walking up the alley, I stopped at their gate and looked across the garden to their kitchen window. I could just barely hear a familiar Italian tune playing on their old record player, bit I could clearly see Polly and Menta swaying to the music. They had pushed the furniture in the kitchen back a little so they could hold each other in their arms and dance once more. When Menta died that winter, Polly disappeared for weeks. We were sure she’d gone back to the old country. But in the springs, she was back in her garden. Planting sunflowers and vegetables. Feeding the birds that came to sing for her. Shooing cats away from the chickens. Saying grace over her lunch of fresh beans, tomatoes, and onions…and then dozing and smiling in the afternoon sun…probably holding hands.
Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be. -Robert Browning
WHen I get older losing my hair, many years from now. Will you still be sending me a valentine birthday greetings bottle of wine.
When I’m sixty-four
If I’ve been out ‘til quarter to three would you lock the door, will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?
Give me your answer, fill in a form mine for evermore
will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four. -The Beatles