This is the Excerpt Congratulations to A.M. Matte, whose submission Sunborrowers and Watering Cans was the second place winner of Good News Toronto’s 2012 True Story Contest — a creative non-fiction personal essay about a good neighbour.
My son planted a bean in a cup at daycare last spring and it began to bud. To humour him, I bought a pot and some earth, transferred the puny sprout and set the entire concoction out on the common terrace of our condominium building – where I promptly paid it no heed during one of the driest summers our city has known.
When I returned in early August to retrieve the dusty remains, I was surprised to find a thriving, full green plant with edible beans hanging from it. It put in mind my father’s prolific tomato garden, helped along by his neighbour Colette.
Papa has a well-tended and landscaped garden, in part inspired by that of Versailles. Off to the side is a vegetable patch where lettuce, carrot and tomato plants battle the occasional rabbit and inclement weather for survival.
Papa also has a busy schedule that whisks him away from home on a regular basis – too regular for his garden to thrive. That’s where Colette comes in.
She lives next door to my parents; her deck is bathed in sunshine in early morning and overshadowed by trees by noon. There is a grassy patch of land beyond the deck where there used to be an above-ground pool. Beyond that is a small vegetable garden that enjoys Colette’s attention – the same attention she pays to Papa’s garden during my parents’ frequent trips away from home.
Armed with a watering can, Colette makes her way across her neighbours’ lawn and down a small hill to the vegetable patch. She carefully removes the mesh wire fence, which ineffectively keeps rabbits out, and steps in to water the thirsty plants and their cherry-red fruit. Once that job is done, she fills the watering can with the bite-sized tomatoes, ensuring none goes to waste. There are always more when my parents return, as long as Colette waters them.
Later, Colette drags a lawn chair onto my parents’ property for a well-deserved rest. Papa jokes that it’s only fair: in the afternoon, Colette’s place is in shadow, “so we let her borrow our sun!” A little water for a little sun; it’s a pleasant, reciprocal relationship – one I ponder as I bite into a prickly-fuzzy, sun-warmed green bean.
A good neighbour is a friend, a helper, an ally; but a neighbour can also be a kindly stranger who waters a toddler’s bean plant, just because it’s there.