Joe Porter had a walker and wore a baseball cap. During the warmer months, he’d make a circuit of our neighborhood leaving the nursing home on the corner of Dearborn and MLK, heading up 26th to the Walgreens and then coming back down 25th. He usually had a small bag from Walgreens when he passed our house and a flower in his shirt pocket. I often crossed his path heading to the bus and he usually pretended not to be resting. This journey must have taken him several hours. Most people could do it in less than twenty minutes if they weren’t browsing too long in the drugstore.
He was hard to miss, but I guess I started paying closer attention to him when he started yanking flowers out of my front yard. It solved the mystery of how freshly planted violas were uprooted and why the front of our busy garden often seemed grazed. Earlier this spring I watched him snap off our neighbor’s only rose and attack with gusto a huge branch of a rhododendron down the street.
I have plenty of flowers. A couple years ago, I was cleaning up some crazy catmint and thought to myself, “I ought to take that old plant-stealing dude some of these instead of putting them in the compost.” So I made a huge, wild bouquet and walked it over. I didn’t know his name, but when I explained about the walker and the flowers, everyone there knew exactly who I was talking about. “That’s Joe Porter. He is always bringing flowers to his wife.” Turns out he and his wife shared a room in the nursing home and that she was too frail to go outside.
Today, I am making garlic chive oil. You don’t use the flowers for that as they’ve got very stiff stalks, so I made another bouquet for Joe and his wife with a few dahlias, salvia, grasses, black-eyed susans. I hadn’t seen Joe around the last couple months, but I’ve also been busy.
When I gave the flowers to the receptionist, she got a worried look on her face and then I knew. Joe Porter died.
“How is his wife?”, I asked.
“She is fine.”
“Could you just send these up to her then?”
I don’t know anything else about Joe Porter. I never made a point to say more than hello to him and I don’t know if he ever could tell, based on the flowers in our yard, that it was me bringing him flowers. I’ve never seen his wife who is upstairs somewhere. Sometimes, I think I ought to make a point to say hello and stay for a visit, but most of the time, I think maybe it’s nicer that some random flowers just show up now and again. I don’t know. It’s a puzzle I’ve not solved.