Carl was a quiet man.
He didn't talk much. He would always greet you with a
big smile and a firm handshake. Even after living in our
neighborhood for over 50 years, no one could really say they
knew him very well.
Before his retirement, he took the bus to work each
morning.The sight of him walking down the street often worried
us.He had a slight limp from a bullet wound received in WWII.
Watching him, we worried that although he had survived
WWII, hemay not make it through our changing uptown
neighborhood with its ever-increasing random violence, gangs,
and drug activity.
When he saw the flyer at our local church asking for
volunteers for caring for the gardens behind the minister's
residence,he responded in his characteristically un-assuming
Without fanfare, he just signed up. He was well into his
87th year when the very thing we had always feared finally
He was just finishing his watering for the day when
three gang members approached him. Ignoring their attempt to
intimidate him, he simply asked, "Would you like a drink from the
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
A few weeks later the three returned. Just as before their
threat was unchallenged. Carl again offered them a drink from
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. 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 warm giving sun, picked up
his hose,and went on with his watering. The summer was quickly
fading into fall. Carl was doing some tilling 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.
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 another flyer went up. It read:
"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
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
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 member of 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 a baby boy last night,
and she's bringing him home on Saturday.
"Well, congratulations!" said the minister, as he was
handed the garden shed keys. "That's wonderful! What's the
"Carl," he replied.