Every Saturday morning, Mom cleans the Shepherds’ house. My brother, Ken, and I usually go with her.
“How do you like your new home?” Mrs. Shepherd asks as soon as Mom opens the door.
“Very good,” Mom says, taking her bucket to the kitchen sink and turning on the water. “So much space for kids.”
“Let me know if there’s anything you need. We have lots of things stored in the basement.” Mrs. Shepherd turns to my brother and me. “Just yesterday I was cleaning out the closet, and I set aside a few things for you.”
We follow Mrs. Shepherd into the bedroom, and I notice that one of her legs is dragging. She holds on to the doorframe to keep her balance, then sits down in the armchair. Next to it is a cardboard box with a big envelope on top. “Whenever you get mail, it has a mark from the place it originated. Mr. Shepherd and I feel like we traveled the world with this postmark collection.”
“Don’t you want to keep it?” Ken asks.
“There comes a time when a person gets tired of traveling.” Mrs. Shepherd hands Ken the envelope, then looks up at me. “And, Anna, here are some of the books and magazines I read when I was a girl. I figured, what good are they gathering dust on a shelf?” Mrs. Shepherd stops for a minute to catch her breath. “This one was my favorite.” She hands me a thick book with a red cover called The Secret Garden. “I think this book is the reason I turned into a gardener.” Mrs. Shepherd leans back in her chair. “And it’s probably the reason I turned into a reader, too. Now you kids make yourself at home while I rest a bit.”
Ken and I spend the afternoon matching the postmarks to a map of the United States that was folded up in the envelope. Then Mr. Shepherd sets out a bowl of pretzels and a pitcher of lemonade.
“Come join us for a snack, Mary,” he says. But Mom isn’t done dusting the living room. “Your mother is a real treasure,” Mr. Shepherd says. “And you kids, too.”
Ken stacks a bunch of pretzels on his finger and eats them one at a time, dropping crumbs all over the table. I glare at him, but he keeps on nibbling.
“Never mind.” Mr. Shepherd sweeps the crumbs into his hand and rolls his wheelchair over to the door so he can throw them into the backyard. “Better than bird seed.” He points to a tree. “See that? A yellow finch just waiting for a snack.”
When Mom says it’s time to go, Mrs. Shepherd comes out of the bedroom holding a small paper bag. “I have one more thing for you, Anna. I harvested the seeds from our garden, and I thought maybe in your new house you’d have someplace to plant them.”
“Don’t you want to plant them here?” I ask. “In your garden?”
Mrs. Shepherd looks out the back window. “You know, Anna, my gardening days are over.” I follow her gaze to the flowerbed. Most of the plants are brown and dry, but there are still some orange blossoms around the border. “The seeds are labeled so you’ll know what’s what.”
“Thank you,” I say. Ever since I can remember, I wished I lived on a farm with a big vegetable garden and a barn full of hay where Ken and I could play hide-and-seek and jump from one bale of hay to another.
We head down the street to the bus stop. The wind feels hot and humid, as if it might rain. When we get to the orange bus stop sign, I turn back. Mr. Shepherd has wheeled himself out to the front porch. Mrs. Shepherd is standing beside him, leaning on his chair. I wave and they wave back. When the bus comes, they are still waving.
Now that we moved into our new house, the bus ride home takes longer. I wish we were going back to our old apartment at Manor Court. Then when we got home, I would go next door to see if Suzanne could come out. At our new house, I don’t know anyone and I don’t have anything to do.
I put my hand into my pocket and feel the paper bag with the seeds inside. Maybe I really can find a place at our new house for a garden, like behind the back porch. Since our house is on the corner, we do have lots of space. Dad said he wouldn’t have time to tackle the yard until next year, but I can clear the land myself, just like Pa and Ma in Little House in the Big Woods. I can cut down the bushes and dig out the roots. Ken can help me take out the rocks. Then, in the spring, I can plant Mrs. Shepherd’s seeds.