I first met Becky, an avid gardener, through a north Minneapolis Facebook page. She had enjoyed reading my blog and told me so. And she had lived in the neighborhood her whole life.
“God planted us here too,” she wrote me in a post, and her choice of verb wasn’t lost on me.
Over the following months, Becky sprinkled my Facebook page with encouragement, and I counted her as my friend. She invited me to help myself to her perennials whenever I wanted. I hadn’t met her in person, though, until I showed up unannounced on her front steps one June day in 2015. She came to the screen door, and I introduced myself.
“Come,” she said, pulling on a floppy hat that paired well with her overalls. “Let’s walk through the garden.”
First, she showed me her husband Ron’s project, an aquaponic garden built with the help of the neighborhood kids. Then we strolled through the flower beds in her back yard. After that, she pointed out two tall poles, spaced about ten feet apart in front of an expanse of grass.
“We string up a painters tarp between them for a screen,” she said, “and then we invite the neighborhood over to watch movies.”
At the end of our visit, Becky sent me off with gifts: peppers, heirloom tomatoes, hostas. When I returned home, I thought about my friend as I patted my plants into the soil of their new home.
Over the next year, Becky’s greetings were often filled with the promise of green things: the news of a plant giveaway in the neighborhood, an invitation to the verdant leftovers after the community gardens had been sated, and offers of beauty from her own back yard paradise. When the bullets flew in the early summer of 2016 and claimed more innocent lives in the neighborhood, my bright outlook wilted. But my friend knew just what to say.
“Come over and get some flowers.”
I always returned from my treks to Becky’s with living things, this time with phlox, obedient plant, columbine, and centaurea montana. Her words echoed in my mind: “Give them a good haircut. All the energy will go to the roots that way.” Grimacing, I did as she had instructed and hacked off the healthy tops of the plants before I sank them into the dirt.
As I watched my plantings flourish, I thought of Becky. Questions about the life she shared with her husband on the Northside cropped up like weeds after a soaking rain. The neighborhood kids played a big part in their lives, and I wanted to know more.
On my next visit, the couple walked me around their property. Ron stopped in front of the aquaponic garden.
“This was built by neighborhood kids,” he said. “And maintained by them too. They come every week to measure the growth of the plants.” He indicated the reservoir’s water. “Thirty koi and sixty rainbow trout fertilize the plants.”
Grapes, cucumbers, kale, lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetables grew from the structure. He plucked a small plant to show me its roots, then plugged it back into its bed of clay pellets. He pinched off a leaf from the spicy oregano for me to sample.
I learned that Ron worked with students at North High, teaching them aquaponics there too. And because he and Becky worked in urban youth ministries through Youth Resources, I wasn’t the only one who had just showed up on their front steps. They were used to frequent drop-ins.
We meandered into the back yard. The soil was ripped up in one spot, evidence of a building project underway.
“When the north Minneapolis tornado came through, destroying so much, I heard the verse, ‘He prunes those He loves’,” Ron said, and I thought I heard a catch in his voice. “We lost a huge pine tree that used to stand right there. Now we’re building a prayer gazebo in its place. It’ll be for anyone in the neighborhood.”
The summer day was sticky and the temperature, climbing. Before we entered the house, Ron nodded toward a teenage boy, perched on their front porch and writing in a notebook. “He’s measuring the plants right now.”
Inside, we sat around the dining room table, and I listened to their stories. Soon, the boy from the porch entered through the side door and settled into a chair by us. Becky offered him cookies. She and Ron had raised four kids of their own, but how many others had sat at their table over the years? And like the plants they tended so well, how many kids had they nurtured through life?
At the end of our visit, I thanked them and headed toward the door.
“Wait.” Becky motioned for me to follow her. “I can’t let you go empty-handed.” From her kitchen window sill she lifted a small potted plant, its leaves edged with what looked like tiny green flowers. “Have you seen these before?”
I shook my head. “Is it a cactus of some kind?”
“It’s a succulent.” She touched one of the small flowers. “These fall off and plant themselves. It’s called Mother of Millions because of all the babies it drops, I suppose.” She tapped some of the “babies” into a Ziploc bag for me. Each plantlet had roots as thin as hair. “Just put them in a little dirt, and they’ll grow.”
On the drive home, I glanced at the Ziploc bag on the front seat next to me. I had seen pictures of Becky with her children, grandchildren, and kids from the neighborhood. Mother of Millions. The name was perfect for her too.
*Youth Resources exists for the advancement of urban youth and organizations that serve them to reduce illiteracy, poverty, crime, and fatherlessness. You can find information about Ron and Becky McConico’s ministry on Facebook at Youth Resources MN and updates about their prayer gazebo at North MPLS Prayer Gazebo.
*The next neighborhood outdoor movie is “Where Hope Grows”, showing on Sunday, August 7, 2016, 8:00-11:00 p.m., at 2114 Queen Ave. N., Minneapolis. All are welcome.
*Miss an installment of the blog? Or want to catch the story from the beginning? Visit http://www.tamarajorell.com/blog-entries-by-date
*Names in this blog have been changed to protect my family, neighbors, and friends in the neighborhood, and in a nod of appreciation to the beloved Swedish author Maj Lindman, I’ve renamed my three blondies Flicka, Ricka, and Dicka.