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Mr Joe

Thomas Huckabee, Louisiana, USA
December 2006

It’s said by some of the older folks that if you get deep enough into the swamps and listen hard enough to nature that you can hear voices talking to you. They say that it is the voice of nature and that if you listen and do what you are told you will find the true meaning of existence.
Now, growing up in the swamps of Louisiana I came to believe this as a way to explain old women talking to themselves while they were out watering their plants in the garden.
My padna’s and I used to walk the streets of our neighborhood looking and laughing at the old timers toiling away taking care of their collards and mustard greens, occasionally we would watch some of the old ladies on their front porch just talking away with no one in ear shot of them, that is, until one day while on my way down to the fishing hole I ran into Mr. Joe.
Mr. Joe was an old man who grew up in Mississippi during the depression and served in the army during world war II. He migrated to the swamps during the oil boom and made his roots in St. Mary Parish. He always wore a green and red skull cap with bright red suspenders on his pants. He had big white bushy eyebrows and a weathered face from working in the elements his whole life.
Many people have said they could hear him in the back yard talking and laughing when there was no one else around and that he was able to understand what his plants talked about.

While walking by I noticed that he had the most green and plentiful garden I’ve ever seen in my life. His fruit trees were so huge you couldn’t even see the old house behind them. I couldn’t help myself but to stop in and see what was going on. I walked up to the front door and knocked and waited and waited, then from the back I heard someone talking, the voice was saying "there you go my little friend, tuck you in right up to your neck". I couldn’t believe what I was hearing so I walked on back to see what was going on.
Mr. Joe was planting a small tomato bush and covering it with dirt all the way up the stem to the first leaves. I was in amazement as he continued to talk telling the tomato plant not to worry and that it was going to be taken care of. I walked up to Mr. Joe and introduced myself, and asked what he did to make his garden grow so green and lush. Mr. Joe just chuckled at me, his big white eyebrows dripping sweat, he said that you have to talk them into making fruit so that you can eat. At this point I thought he was crazy but I decided to humor the old man for he had made the best garden in the Parish. I asked "how do you trick plants into producing fruits for you" and Mr. Joe replied "you have to be their friend, because friends help friends." Now, I couldn’t stop myself from laughing too much longer, so I said my goodbyes and headed off to the fishing hole. While on my way home I decided to stop in on Mr. Joe’s place and check up on his garden. I was surprised to see his plants wilted and knocked on his door to see what had happened in the few hours since I had been there. Mr. Joe answered the door and invited me in to take a rest and when I asked what had happened his answer made the hair on the back of my neck stand up.
He told me that plants are just like us humans, in that, when they are visiting with friends they are up awake and ready to pass a good time but when everyone leaves it is time to rest. I almost choked on the water I was drinking when it all came together in my mind, he really was talking to his plants, they really do understand each other, I thought. I excused myself and then ran home as fast as I could to tell my mother of what I had seen. I rushed through the door screaming for her to come down so that I could tell her what happened. When she did come I told her the story and she told me that I must be crazy for that could never happen and that I had gotten too much sun from fishing that afternoon. Well, I didn’t believe her but I swore never to go back to Mr. Joe’s house again.
Years went by with everyday I passed in front of that old house and I could hear that old man talking away to his plants and growing the finest fruits and vegetables ever to be served on a supper table until one day Mr. Joe had a heart attack and died. The whole town went to his funeral and we all said our goodbyes but the main topic of conversation was his garden and how pitiful it was that it would all die. Little did they know the truth. You see it is believed that Mr. Joe made a pact with his plants that even when he passed on the plants would continue to thrive in his name. The fact is, 20 years later, I still live in the same town and still pass by old Mr. Joe’s house, his plants are still there with no one taking care of them. They say that if you listen hard enough you can still hear him talking to his plants, telling them that he will always be there to take care of them.

Thomas Huckabee, Louisiana, USA
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