Trapped. Like so many elderly people, he was caught up in the transition and migration that has a profound effect on society from time to time. When he moved from the farm with his young family and accepted a job at the big box plant he was introduced to real money. For the first time, he was able to give his family some of the material things in life that the farm life could never offer.
The excitement of a new life and watching his family grow put the farm life further behind him as he grew older. Sometimes, settling on the front porch in the evening, his reflections back in time to his days in the country were almost like it was someone else and not him that had toiled the land for a living.
All the children had gone on to bigger and better things in other cities. His wife, losing a struggle with tuberculosis, had left him a lonely and bitter man.
It seemed the neighborhood transformed before his eyes. Every day a new, poor family took up residence in one of the vacant rundown homes that so elegantly graced the middle class neighborhood in years past.
It never occurred to him that these families were taking the same route he took many years ago. He escaped the depression of the farm, the families were escaping the hard reaches of poverty.
As he rocked on the front porch, he failed to find any compassion for this new influx. In fact, they were the cause of some of his problems. At least he manipulated his mind into believing that. It conveniently fit his mood and situation.
She was six. Alone most of the time with her mother working, the older women in the neighborhood took turns watching her. Most of her day was spent in the narrow alley adjacent to his home. She called him "mister man" but he never spoke or smiled. Occasionally he would nod. Hours on end she played, talking to her one-armed Raggedy Ann doll propped against the steps. Her favorite game of fantasy was her rock garden. So many stones covered and uncovered in neat little rows. An old pot would hold these make believe potatoes and vegetables. Working her garden and admonishing Raggedy Ann for not eating all her food, minutes passed into hours. Occasionally a quick smile at "mister man" or a question would go unanswered, she was always cheerful to "mister man".
If he ever caught himself looking in her direction, he quickly turned away.
"Mister man - want a potato?" Her dark eyes danced.
"No. That's not a potato or anything else but a stone. Are all you people that dumb?"
Her smile turned to tears. Raggedy Ann was left to face the day propped against the steps as she raced into her house. A make-believe world came tumbling down through vicious words of "mister man".
What she did with her days from then on he did not know. At some time unknown to him she rescued Raggedy Ann but the rock garden remained. The spring rains uncovered some from their shallow burial but the old pot and twigs for the make-believe stove stared back at him just like those dancing eyes and sunshine smile.
He lashed out. He had won, yet where was the victory?
Pushing his shopping cart through the neighborhood grocery he dodged a small package that had fallen in the aisle. As gingerly as his arthritic back allowed, he leaned over and picked up a package of tomato seed. A slight crack had developed in his self-created coat of armor. Instead of placing it back on the shelf, he put it in his shopping cart.
Cautious at first, he kicked a few rocks out of the way. Slowly with a heavy rake, he cleared the area. Through the corner of his eye he could see her. In the second floor window, nose pressed hard against the pane, she watched his every move. He must be really mad now that he destroying everything that was left of her magical world. He just didn't look mad. When he looked up again, the tiny face that was framed in the window was gone.
"Hey, mister man," came the little voice from behind the rotting banisters of her front porch. "Watcha doin?"
The rest of the day found Raggedy Ann in the middle of a conversation about sunlight, rows and seeds. About how important the moon was on all things that grow. A real garden was born and something else was reborn.
"These rocks aren't any good, she would say, "Oh yes," he would counter. "We will build a little wall."
That evening at the grocery store, he got the bright idea to buy extra seeds to plant. There were none on the shelf. Inquiring to the manager brought an odd response, "We only handle flower seed. We never had any garden seed." He was puzzled.
The next morning found "mister man" and the little girl hard at work. Glancing up at the second floor window, a familiar face was framed by the peeling paint that bordered the rotted framework.
Wasn't that the old lady he had seen in the grocery store just ahead of him, right before he picked up the package of seeds from the floor?