As a way of expressing my gratitude to you, gentle reader, I would like to share a short piece that I recently wrote.
THE EIGHTVILLE MIRACLE
John Henry Carter was sixteen years old when his family moved away from the small town of Eightville, Tennessee. He’d finished his sophomore year at Dewey High School and had hoped to try out for the football team in the fall. But his dad was transferred to a new job in another state and the family followed.
John Henry wasn’t really sad to leave Eightville; he realized his dad’s opportunities in that old industrial town were limited. But he was smart enough to realize that the opportunities for his own future were limited as well. However, there was an unfinished project that he would have liked to continue to work on with his friends from high school. He would miss helping the town implement a new recycling program that he and his friends had worked on through their Conservation Club. It had taken the club members a full year of speaking in front of various town committees. explaining their research, and proving how much trash was contributed to the local landfill as well as how that volume was expected to grow in the coming years before getting the town council to act. The Conservation Club wanted to stop the landfill from becoming a dump that would one day turn even more toxic than it already was. He’d probably never see the fruits of his labors since he was pretty sure he’d never return to Eightville.
As his father guided their old Buick out of town, John Henry asked him to stop for a moment as they approached the landfill.
“Sure, son,” his dad agreed.
John Henry sighed when he saw the ever-growing mountain of trash alongside the country road that was at the far end of town.
“Wish I could see that recycling plant once it’s up and running,” he said.
“Honestly, John Henry, I don’t think that will ever come about,” said his dad. “It’s a cost of both time and money. If truth be told, people don’t take too kindly to being told what to do with their trash.”
“But it’s for the good of everyone,” mused John Henry. “What’s wrong with that?”
“Son, as you grow older, you’ll find that sometimes things that are good for us are the last things we embrace, especially if it means we must change the way we do things. Adults get set in their ways, in a routine, and don’t like changes. Besides, everything now is about convenience. We’re becoming a throw-away society. If an item has outlived its usefulness we simply throw it away. Not like when I was young.”
His dad shifted the gears of the car and they moved one, leaving the growing landfill behind them.
Many Years Later
By the time John Henry Carter reached his seventy-fifth birthday, his memory was slipping away from him. He enjoyed his life still because he resided in an assisted living facility where there was an entire wing designated for other folks who had the same lapses in memory that he was having.
Today, however, his twenty-six year old grandson Jeff proposed an outing that he thought his granddad would enjoy. They set off in Jeff’s car, a sporty-looking red two-door vehicle.
“Back in my day, cops would have stopped you at every corner if you drove one of these,” observed John Henry as he settled into one of the bucket seats.
“Just a little drive over the state line, gramps. Thought you might like to visit the town where you grew up.”
John Henry was a bit perplexed but then it came to him.
Jeff nodded his head, keeping his eyes on the winding road that led back into Tennessee.
“Do you remember the town, gramps? You used to tell me about it when I was a kid.”
“Sure, I remember. But we moved away before I could try out for the football team. Left behind some good friend. Kept in touch for a while but then we all grew up and…”
John Henry’s response drifted into silence as his mind replayed memories of his youth.
After an hour or so Jeff spied the sign that said ‘Entering Eightville’.
“We’re almost there, gramps.”
John Henry had been busy reliving his memories and was a bit confused by Jeff’s statement.
“Eh? Almost where?”
“Eightville, gramps. That’s where we’re headed. Remember?”
“Eightville? I grew up in a town called Eightville? Did I ever tell you that?”
“Yes, gramps. You did. What do you remember most about the town?”
“That’s easy. The old landfill. It was the last thing I saw when we left town.”
Jeff guided the car down the shady road past some open farmland, and pulled to a stop in a paved parking area. Turning off the ignition, he helped his grandfather out of the car and handed the older man his cane. They walked slowly toward the entrance of what appeared to be a small park.
“This is pretty,” said John Henry as he looked around him. “Is there going to be a ball game?”
“No gramps,” laughed Jeff. “But there is something you’ll want to see.”
Green grass was dotted with benches and there were lot of people milling about. It was a lovely summer day, perfect for a picnic, and several families were doing just that. Several yards ahead of them rose a small hill covered with a variety of trees and flowers that grew in wild abandon. No formal landscaping, yet a beautiful spot designed by nature. At the base of the hill stood a group of people who appeared to be about the same age as John Henry.
“Gramps, do you have any idea where you are?”
“Eightville?” came the hopeful response.
Jeff laughed. “Yes, Eightville. But do you recognize this place? Do any of those people over there look familiar?”
John Henry squinted through his glasses before taking them off and wiping them with his handkerchief. He looked again but the people gathered together were unknown to him. Or maybe he knew them but didn’t know he knew them? He shook his head in response to Jeff’s questions.
“Well, gramps, those folks are all waiting for you. It’s a celebration.”
Jeff guided his grandfather toward the group and one by one they came forward and re-introduced themselves. John Henry smiled at them, men and women, all with grey hair and glasses, some with canes and one with a walker. The last man to step forward took John Henry’s hand and pulled him into a hug.
“John Henry Carter, it’s good to see you again. I’m Paul Thomaston. We used to be best friends before you moved away.”
John Henry focused his gaze on the man’s face. Yes, those were the eyes of his one-time best friend, Paul Thomaston.
“Paul? Is that really you?” A pause on John Henry’s part. “Why are we here? Didn’t my dad drive us out of town?”
“John Henry, this is a reunion of our Conservation Club, from Dewey High. Remember the recycling project we all worked so hard on and that you spearheaded? Well this is the result of all our work and the work of those that followed us.”
Paul pointed toward the hill covered with flora and fauna: trees, some for shade and others bearing fruit; a mix of plant life that looked like a wild meadow but prettier; song birds, bees, butterflies, and even a hummingbird or two filled the air around the hill.
“This can’t be. There used to be a landfill here. Wasn’t there?”
“All true,” answered Paul. “It got really bad here in the early ’70s with folks just throwing everything away. But once the recycle plant was built and operating, we began to separate the organic refuse and only kept that in the landfill. After several years, some of the unwanted plants that people threw away were poking their heads our of the soil. We neglected them, thinking they were weeds. But in time, all the flower bulbs, like tulips and irises, began to bloom with regularity. And the tiny saplings that sprouted from all the peach and avocado pits and stuff like that were sending out roots. Still we didn’t pay attention. Discarded shrubs with a bit of life left took hold too. Then one spring morning a couple of years ago someone noticed that the hillside was covered with blossoms of all kinds and that birds and bees liked to hover here.”
“Of course, the town council and the mayor stepped in, and a park was built around the hill that they now called a garden. Today is the official opening of the garden. We waited until everything was blooming. As the group that got the entire recycling project started, we were invited to attend. But we were adamant that you be with us.”
Paul nodded at the mayor and other dignitaries and they proceeded with the event. There were speeches of course and John Henry’s mind began to wander a bit as they droned on. But he was called back to the present when he heard the words, “…my pleasure to dedicate this beautiful garden as John Henry’s Miracle Garden”.
Tears formed in his eyes as he realized that the work he’d begun back in the late 1960s had continued in some form over the past fifty-nine years. John Henry, with this grandsom by his side, smiled when he heard the name of the new garden and park.
“I really didn’t have anything to do with all of this,” he whispered to his grandson.
“You were the leader, gramps; you were the visionary,” replied Jeff.
When the dedication was over, the mayor came to shake John Henry’s hand and posed with him for some pictures. After the formality was over, Jeff led his grandfather to one of the benches where they sat comfortably as the other original members of the Conservation Club came to reminisce with their former club leader. The last was a silver-haired gentleman, accompanied by a young girl whose hand he held. They sat beside John Henry on the bench.
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?”
John Henry searched the recesses of his mind, trying to focus on the man’s voice since he couldn’t recognize him by sight.
“You’re Max Loveland, aren’t you?”
“Yes, I am. I can’t tell you how good it is to see you, John Henry, after all these years.”
“I never thought I’d see any of you again,” John Henry admitted.
The young girl who had been standing patiently beside the men began fidgeting.
“Francesca, I want you to meet an old friend of mine,” Max spoke to the girl.
“Hi. I’m Franny. Who are you?”
“I’m a friend of your grandfather,” answered John Henry.
“He’s my great-grandfather.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Come on Poppy, I want to catch a butterfly.”
When they had moved on, Jeff returned to sit beside his grandfather.
“Are you happy we came here today, gramps?”
“I’m happy to be with you anytime, my dear son, but coming here is something I’d never thought to see. This place was on its way to becoming an eyesore and a blight on our town back then. It warms my heart to know that somehow it has miraculously become a place of beauty.”
I wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving 2019.