Mr. Olsavsky was my childhood neighbor. He lived right next door to me. He was a retired steel-worker and widower. He had a lush vegetable garden, and the brightest pink and red roses that you'd ever see. I was his helper. I'd spy him working in his yard and rush outside to join him. It was my job to carry his metal watering can. I could carry it all the way to his front yard without spilling a drop. Together, we'd give his rose bushes a good long drink. Then, he'd rustle my blonde hair with his hand and smile.
When we finished our chores, we'd sit under his apple tree on white-washed Adirondack chairs. He'd pick an apple, release the blade of his Swiss pocket knife, and cut me a thick juicy slice. He'd tell me about his tomato plants and flowers. I'd look at him and listen as tart apple juice ran down my chin. He'd tell me about the robin's nest that fell from his apple tree during the thunderstorm the night before. He'd show me the small, powdery blue robin's eggs that he found in the grass. Sometimes, we would just sit and watch the clouds roll by in the sky. Sometimes, when it was really hot, he'd turn on his garden sprinklers and let me run under the delicate and graceful arcs of cooling water. We spent many a summer afternoon in those chairs.
As I grew older, Mr. Olsavsky's health grew frail. Arthritis took a heavy toll on his legs. He found it difficult to traverse his back porch steps. In later years, he could only manage to watch me from his dining room window, waving at me as I mowed his grass.
I have heard it said that you can never return to the days of your youth. I've found that I never really left those days behind me. I carry them with me in my heart. And, when the warm breeze of remembrances stirs, those days come back to me with the same vibrancy and color of Mr. Olsavsky's roses.
Mr. Olsavksy died when I was a young man. He was my childhood neighbor. He was my childhood friend. He showed me kindness. On white-washed Adirondack chairs. He taught me about gardens and roses, and about accepting life's hardships along with its beauty. I measure the world with the backyard lessons he taught me to this very day.
Seasons pass; we are helpless to stop their advance. The newness of spring and summer turns to autumn's gold and wilting earth-tones. Most of the elderly neighbors that I knew as a boy are gone now. The city blocks of the lower West Side where I grew up have grown gray and tired with age and neglect. But I am still drawn to that place. I slow my car on a late September afternoon as I approach Mr. Olsavsky's former residence. I gaze through tinted windows to see that his flower beds have become choked and crowded with weeds. Only one small pink rose struggles and stretches for light within their midst. Soon its canes will be burnished by frost and its soft, fragrant petals will fall to the cold earth. I wondered if it would survive the winter.
I turn the corner and proceed on my way. Sadness fills me. The world, this city, and the community have forgotten the value of this place, just like the present occupants of Mr. Olsavsky's home have forgotten the beauty and fragility offered by a single pin rose. But I remember... I remember. And, somewhere deep within me, in the warm breeze of remembrance, Mr. Olsavsky's roses are blossoming.