Carl was a quiet man. He did not talk much, but he would always greet you with a big smile and a firm handshake. Even after living in our neighborhood for over 50 years, no one could really say they knew him very well. About the only thing we knew was that, before his retirement, he took the bus to work each morning.
The lone sight of him walking down the street often worried us. He had a slight limp from a bullet wound received in World War II. Watching him, we worried that although he had survived World War II, he may not make it through our changing, uptown neighborhood with its ever-increasing, random violence, gangs, and drug activity.
When Carl saw the flyer at our local church asking for volunteers to care for the gardens behind the minister’s residence, he responded in his characteristically unassuming manner. Without fanfare, he just signed up.
He was well into his 87th year when the very thing we had always feared finally happened. He was just finishing his watering for the day when three gang members approached him. Ignoring their attempt to intimidate him, he simply asked, “Would you like a drink from the hose?”
The tallest and toughest-looking of the three said, “Yeah, sure,” with a malevolent, little smile. As Carl offered the hose to him, the other two grabbed Carl’s arm, throwing him down to the ground. As the hose snaked crazily over the ground, dousing everything in its way, Carl’s assailants stole his retirement watch and his wallet, and then fled. Carl tried to get himself up, but he had been thrown down on his bad leg. He lay there trying to gather himself as the minister came running to help him. Although the minister had witnessed the attack from his office window, he could not get to the garden fast enough to stop it.
“Carl, are you okay? Are you hurt?” the minister kept asking as he helped Carl to his feet.
Carl just passed a hand over his brow and sighed, shaking his head. “Just some punk kids. I hope they will wise-up someday.”
His wet clothes clung to his slight frame as he bent to pick up the hose. He adjusted the nozzle again and started to water. Confused and a little concerned, the minister asked, “Carl, what are you doing?”
“I have to finish my watering. It has been very dry lately,” came the calm reply.
Satisfying himself that Carl really was all right, the minister could only marvel. Carl was a man from a different time and place.
A few weeks later the three returned. Just as before, their threat was unchallenged. Carl again offered them a drink from his hose. This time they did not rob him. They wrenched the hose from his hand and drenched him head to foot in the icy water. When they had finished their humiliation of him, they sauntered off down the street, throwing catcalls and curses, falling over one another laughing at the hilarity of what they had just done.
Carl just watched them. Then he turned toward the warmth-giving sun, picked up his hose, and went on with his watering.
The summer was quickly fading into fall, and Carl was doing some tilling when he was startled by the sudden approach of someone behind him.