hanging up a hat

April 30th, 2021

The other day I was on a Zoom call when I looked out the window and saw Thomas walking up to the front door of the house as if to knock. A few minutes later my husband came to get me. Thomas was here to tell us he was retiring.

Thomas has worked  as a gardener since he was 15 and now he is 67. A few years ago when I posted a video of the garden on YouTube I had a message from a woman who lived in Pennsylvania. She said that when she was a child her grandmother had lived here. As a girl she’d spent her summers here and did we still have a desert turtle and a gardener named Tommy? No turtle, but yes, Tommy was still here.

We gathered at the door and Thomas said that he didn’t want to retire but he couldn’t do the work anymore. It was his knees, and he pantomimed the pain of stooping and hauling. I realized then that while Thomas used to come with a two-man crew and spend an hour, for the last 10 years or so he’d come alone and the job would take him two or three hours each week. The trees keep growing and the wind keeps blowing.

You had that little baby, he said to me, is she still here?

She’s 21 and lives in New York.

The little baby had adored him. I suppose it was a sign of just how quiet her life was, how dull for a toddler to have no one but a bored mom to look at. She would thrill to the sight of Thomas and I would carry her out to see him and she would laugh and baby-flirt.

It was hard to admit how long it had been since I’d talked to Thomas, whose visits were so reliable that I stopped saying a word when he was here, only occasionally waving from the kitchen, or from inside my car as I drove off somewhere.

He never missed a week except for the first week in May, when he would return to Mexico for festivals at his family village. He was honor-bound to go back and do them, he said, with his father dead. It would bless the crops, was how I understood his explanation, and it was important now because the world was crazy. I agreed.

I asked if he would go back to Mexico when he retired. He told me that he would go back but wanted to be able to stay for three months instead of a week. Our families grow old, you see, and 67 is a good time to take the time.

He’d lined up a new gardener for us who would come on Thursday, he said. And on Thursday the new gardener did come and when he told us, by way of introduction, that Thomas had sent him, he pronounced the name Tomás and I knew then how long it can take you to really see someone and know them and appreciate them. It can take more time than you have.

Thank you for talking to me for so long, he said, after the three of us had stood there together at the door for all of 15 minutes out of the last 24 years, and you can tell I’m wiping a tear for all the times I didn’t.

Photo by Denisse Leon on Unsplash


  1. This is heartbreaking and beautiful at the same time. A reminder that nothing is forever. Pay attention. And to forgive ourselves when we fall short. Thank you. Gretchen

    Comment by Gretchen Staebler — April 30, 2021 @ 8:01 am

  2. How well you know, Gretchen. Thank you for being here.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 30, 2021 @ 8:17 am

  3. Hmmmm, I feel a lump in my throat, dear Maezen. And I wonder, given how you describe Tommy, and who you are, if for all these years you did talk with him, in the silent trust you gave him to tend your gardens, in the respect you gave him in your presence. And this is not to deny your tears, and my lump. Kindest regards…

    Comment by Katharine Weinmann — April 30, 2021 @ 8:03 am

  4. Such a comforting word, Katharine. Thank you.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 30, 2021 @ 8:18 am

  5. This one hit me in the soft, squishy part I’m so protective of. I visited with an old friend last week who has decided to end his treatment for a persistent and aggressive cancer.That time thing … whew. He shared in an afternoon, things I had not known over 25 years. I cry at the drop of a hat. I’m crying now as I finish a letter to him and slip it into a card. This share of yours is so timely. Your gaze falls upon important things and I’m so lucky to know you. 

    Comment by Bonnie Rae — April 30, 2021 @ 8:38 am

  6. Squishy parts are the truest parts.

    Comment by Karen Maezen Miller — April 30, 2021 @ 9:47 am

  7. So unseen at yet so valued. Your daughter had it right – go to the garden and visit with the gardner – he has so much wisdom. I am grateful for the reminder that the people we see all the time, who work for us in the grocery store, the restaurtant, the garden, the house, the gas station – pay attention. None of this or us last forever. That you for the reminder.

    Comment by Kate Casey — April 30, 2021 @ 11:50 am

  8. Sadly a common story. You state it with such beauty and poignancy. How much of what we are lamenting about our society today could be healed if we adopted a position of seeing and listening?

    Comment by Jo Ann — April 30, 2021 @ 12:13 pm

  9. This one hit hard. That tells me not only that Tomás is very special in his own right, but that you have chosen well the snippets of reality to recount to give me that feeling for him, and for your own mix of feelings. The ordinary, the everyday speaks so clearly, but so often we do not see or hear. He made your life richer, and I believe you also made his life richer in ways you will never know. Thank you. While I grieve with you, I am also glad that you had the capability to see and to use it to help me see.

    Comment by Donn King — April 30, 2021 @ 2:43 pm

  10. Humbling.

    Comment by Debbie — April 30, 2021 @ 11:34 pm

  11. Nicely said.

    Comment by Larry Misiak — May 1, 2021 @ 6:45 am

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