The Wheelbarrow

            The wheelbarrow sat in front of the apartment building when I moved in four years ago.  I didn’t notice it then.

            Maybe it was the next year that I was well enough to notice it.  It was old and rusty.  The wooden arms were white with age.  It had some soil in it, and at some point the manager paid for flowers that the superintendent planted.  I began to weed and maintain the plants.

            The following year, the manager—a new one—and I went to Home Depot.  We chose pansies, which she paid for out of building funds.  I planted them and added some begonias.  As they flowered, I would bring some into my apartment and put others in a vase in the lobby.  Each year, as the superintendent prepared the property for winter, he would wheel the barrow into his shop.

            Last year, I went to the manager—another new one—to talk about buying flowers.  She said that there was no money and they wouldn’t buy flowers.  The property is owned and operated by Christopher Community, a branch of the Catholic Church; HUD holds the mortgage.

            I bought and planted the flowers.  An aide to one of the other tenants contributed to buy some flowers, too.  The theme was pink and white:  begonias, petunias and some little thing that turned out to be a perennial, not an annual.  Before I planted, I added a bag of soil because the local soil is basically clay.

            I planted and plucked and weeded, and continued to share the cut flowers with the tenants.  My garden grew well all summer, but the manager became increasingly hostile.  She bought potted plants, placed them around the property, then—when they died—she castigated the tenants for not watering them.

            This manager, the newest of six managers in six years, got the superintendent fired.  He had been steadfast in service to the tenants through the previous five managers but, continuing independently on his job and failing to kowtow to the new manager, she engineered his termination by her supervisor.  When winter’s chill set in, the new superintendent left the wheelbarrow outside through nine feet of snow and zero-degree temperatures.

            This year, spring became a reality last week.  The superintendent and I talked.  He said the wheelbarrow was too broken-down to stay.  I understood.  After a winter outside, of course it was broken down.  I proposed that as garage sales began to take place in the neighborhood, I would look for a suitable replacement.

            Since I travel by power wheelchair and could not bring any tub sort of thing home, I offered to purchase an appropriate vessel if he would pick it up and bring it to the property.  He agreed to that plan.  I was already looking for sprouts from the perennials and thinking about what other flowers to buy this year.

            Today, spring burst out with an overwhelming shout of victory.  Pure sunshine and an astounding temperature of 82 degrees!  We exulted—we gloried—in the splendid joy of a return to life!  Resurrection, renewal and affirmation filled the air.

            This afternoon at 5:30, as I wheeled out the front door, headed for a meeting at the local library, the superintendent told me that if there was anything in the wheelbarrow that I wanted then I had to remove it by tomorrow.  After that, he was dumping it and throwing the barrow away.

            Speechless with shock, I said, “What if I can’t?”  Stumbling in my mind, I’m trying to think about what this involves.  Shovels.  Buckets.  Save the perennials.  Save the good soil.

            He tells me to do it by tomorrow or he’s dumping it.

            “But what if I can’t follow your orders?  I’m disabled.  What if I can’t do it on such short notice?”  I am exhausted, and suspect that I will not be in any condition to do physical labor tomorrow.

            He snaps, “I’m not giving you an order.  I’m just telling you that if you want anything, get it out by tomorrow.”

            If I want anything?  I want two square feet of soil, set up waist-high, in which I can continue to garden from my wheelchair and grow flowers for myself and my neighbors.  If I want anything?  Dear God, I want to live like other people!  Have a garden!  Grow flowers!

            “But I am disabled,” I cry.  “What if I can’t do it by tomorrow?”

            The superintendent sneers and turns his back on me.

            I am in turmoil.  Such a little thing.  Such a big thing.  I am descended from fourteen generations of farmers.  All I want is two square feet of soil in which to grow flowers that grace the apartment building.  It is not to be.

            I live in St. David’s Court, the only property in Onondaga County that is exclusively independent living for people with disabilities.  Neither able-bodied people who might wield a shovel—nor flowers—are allowed to live with us.

            The wheelbarrow and I, both broken, are to be thrown on the trash heap.

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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