Here’s a gentle little children’s story I wrote some years ago. Conceived as a picture book, it was on the verge of being published, with an illustrator lined up and already making sketches, when it was suddenly and mysteriously turned down (you know how these things go). Since then it’s sat forlornly in my ‘What shall I do with this?’ file, apart from the odd occasion when I’ve taken it out and dusted it off to use in readings. Please imagine the illustrations it’s still in need of (hint, any illustrators out there), and in whose place I’ll put a few chickadee photos to break up the text.
On Sunday afternoons, Mr. Fitch worked in his garden, while his friend, the chickadee, watched from the boughs of an apple tree.
It was an old garden, old like Mr. Fitch, weathered and worn and a little unkempt from years of generous and unselfish giving.
One autumn Sunday, Mr. Fitch told his garden, “I’m getting old. I can’t look after you as well as I used to.”
Mr. Fitch’s friend, the chickadee, watched from the apple tree.
The house next door had only a tiny concrete yard behind it, and no garden. Mr. Fern had just moved in and was leaning in the back doorway. He heard Mr. Fitch tell his garden, “I’m getting old. I can’t look after you as well as I used to.”
Mr. Fern loved gardening, but had no garden to tend.
Mr. Fitch loved gardening, but had too much garden to tend.
Mr. Fern asked his wife, “Do you think Mr. Fitch would let me help him look after his garden?”
“I’m sure he’d love to have you help him look after his garden,” said Mrs. Fern. “But don’t expect me to help.” She patted her stomach. “At least not until baby Timothy is born.”
Next Sunday afternoon, Mr. Fern looked over the fence which stood between his tiny concrete yard and Mr. Fitch’s garden.
Mr. Fitch was digging.
“I couldn’t help overhearing you the other day when you said you couldn’t look after your garden as well as you used to,” said Mr. Fern.
Mr. Fitch nodded sadly. “I reckon I’m getting too old to tend my garden. I wish I was young, like you. Then I wouldn’t find the work so hard.”
“May I help you look after your garden?” Mr. Fern asked.
Mr. Fitch was delighted.
The chickadee watched from the apple tree.
So, on Sunday afternoon, Mr. Fitch and Mr. Fern worked together in Mr. Fitch’s garden. Mr. Fern dug where the vegetables had grown, turning over the autumn earth, while Mr. Fitch gathered the last of the runner beans.
Mrs. Fern sat in a deck chair in the shade of the apple tree, her hands folded across the bump of her unborn child. She smiled as she watched her husband and their friend, Mr. Fitch.
Above her, in the apple tree, the chickadee watched, too.
At three o’ clock, Mr. Fitch said, “Time for tea.”
Mr. Fitch and Mr. Fern went into Mr. Fitch’s house. They came back with a plate of scones and a pot of tea.
“Mr. Fitch made the scones,” said Mr. Fern.
“Mr. Fern made the tea,” said Mr. Fitch.
“Wonderful,” said Mrs. Fern, clapping her hands.
They had afternoon tea, in the fading autumn sunshine, under the apple tree, while the chickadee watched.
“You see that chap,” said Mr. Fitch to Mr. and Mrs. Fern, nodding at his friend, the chickadee. “That chap – he’s an honoured guest in our garden.”
The chickadee flew from the tree above them to the handle of Mr. Fitch’s spade, where it perched.
“I’d like to be a chickadee,” said Mr. Fitch. “Not today, and not tomorrow, but some time in the future, I’d like to be a chickadee.”
“Why, Mr. Fitch?” said Mr. Fern.
“I’d like to be a chickadee because chickadees are cheerful and friendly,” said Mr. Fitch. “A chickadee makes a good companion, just like you are to me, Mr. Fern.”
“Perhaps I should be a chickadee, too,” said Mr. Fern.
They all laughed, and the chickadee flew away.
“Back to work,” said Mr. Fitch. “There’s much to do. Soon, winter will be here, and the snow will come. Perhaps when it’s spring in the garden young Timothy will be here. The garden would like a young ’un around it.”
Mrs. Fern smiled. “Not long now,” she said.
In the winter, Timothy was born.
Mr. Fern hurried to tell Mr. Fitch that now there’d be a young ’un around the garden. He looked over the fence for Mr. Fitch.
But the snow had come, and Mr. Fitch’s garden was empty, except for his friend, the chickadee, who sat in the apple tree, dusted with snow.
In another garden, in another town, on a Sunday afternoon a few years later, Timothy watched his father digging in the autumn earth. He watched him grip the handle of his spade with one hand, and the shaft with the other, and place his foot on the tines.
Timothy gripped the handle of his spade with one hand, and the shaft with the other, and placed his foot on the tines.
Mr. Fern and Timothy worked quietly and companionably.
A chickadee sat in an apple tree nearby, watching them.
Mr. Fern paused in his work and leaned on his spade.
Timothy paused in his work and leaned on his spade.
“You see that chap,” said Mr. Fern to Timothy, nodding at the chickadee. “That chap – he’s an honoured guest in our garden.”
Mr. Fern put his hands in his pockets.
Timothy put his hands in his pockets.
The chickadee flew to the handle of Mr. Fern’s spade, and perched there.
“Has that chap, that chickadee, got a name, Dad?” said Timothy.
“Not unless we give him one,” said Mr. Fern.
“What could we call him, Dad?”
Mr. Fern smiled.
He thought of a Sunday afternoon, in another garden, in another town, a few years before.
“Let’s call him – Mr. Fitch,” he said.