Ernest loved to garden. I have this memory of him that could be from one occasion or a combination of them, but the memory is him coming in through his back door from the garden. He’s wearing a small cap, a gardening apron that’s brown with dirt, he’s holding his gloves in one hand, his back is still bent from weeding and old age, but he has a grin on his face. He is happy. He’s been in his garden in the sun.
I think his garden is where Ernest felt most at home. He knew how to care for the raspberry bushes, and eggplants, and squashes, and carrots, and tomatoes and I never had any idea of how to do any of that. I kept his lawn mowed and raked. That was my job, my room and board. His job was the garden outside, the living, breathing, beautiful sunlight-filled garden. But his job was also the inside garden, the one with Evelyn, the one that was slowly fading from Dementia, memories dying, green turning to brown.
Those were two different gardens but they weren’t so different. Both had beautiful fruit and vegetables. One obvious, the other less so. As Evelyn’s season turned to winter there was still a harvest. There was still a light in her eyes when she spoke of all the letters Ernest had written her. There was still an enduring spirit in Ernest as he cared for her till the end. There was love. There was a garden with life in it still.
It’s not that there weren’t weeds and rocks in the gardens. There were. Outside Ernest could pull and rake those, but inside his garden tools didn’t work. Sometimes he lost his patience, but I don’t think he ever lost his faith, a quiet persevering faith in the Lord. He wasn’t very verbal when it came to his faith in God, perhaps because he was once a Pastor and was probably all talked out. Or maybe, it was because God’s grace was simply enough for him. I don’t know for sure but I still believe I saw in him a quiet trust in the Lord.
It seems as if Ernest’s season has now come to a close. Like any well tended garden it continues to bear fruit even after the gardener walks away. Yes the garden eventually withers, but for now Ernest is still bearing fruit in my life. I’m grateful for his and Evelyn’s generosity as they welcomed me into their home. I’m grateful for his patience and his quiet companionship for two years of college. And somehow I think my roots are deeper for having watched him endure the hardship of losing his bride.
I’ve added Ernest to my list of friends I look forward to seeing when I too cross that deep river into the far country. However, I don’t expect to see Ernest waiting on the far shore. He’ll be far too busy gardening. I’ll find him kneeling in the dirt pulling weeds at the side of the Master Gardener, the one who pulled Ernest’s weeds and watered Ernest’s fruit from beginning till end, Jesus Christ. One day Ernest’s garden will live again in this world because of that Gardener. Jesus will resurrect Ernest and his garden from the dead to a glorious new life.
On that day Ernest I look forward to sharing that eternal harvest with you. I hope you will teach me how to garden. I have no intention of learning how to do it in this life. Enjoy Evelyn, enjoy the garden, enjoy the Gardener King. You look just like him now. See you soon my friend.
In Christ, Pastor Jonathan Romig