“Mr. Carl’s house sold,” Charlie said one afternoon, the moment Isaac stepped through the door.
Marianne came out of the kitchen, drying her hands on a towel. “The for sale sign is gone, anyway. I wonder who bought it.”
“I wish we had Mr. Carl’s phone number at the care center so we could call and ask. Sending him a letter to ask will take too long.” Charlie frowned thoughtfully. “I guess we could drive there. It’s only a couple of hours away.”
Marianne laughed. “Not on a school night. I think we’ll just have to wait and see.”
Charlie frowned. “Okay. But if they start digging up his garden, we should ask for the rhubarb. And maybe his blueberry bushes. Those are really nice, too.”
“But where would we put the blueberries? We don’t really get enough sun in the corner opposite the garden.” Marianne bunched up the towel into one hand.
“Out front. Do we really need all those irises?” Charlie darted toward the front door, and Isaac stepped out of the way.
“We could move the irises to the front of the house and line the driveway with the bushes,” Marianne said, following him outside. “Why wait? We could go to the garden center this weekend.”
“Mr. Carl’s bushes are better than anything at the garden center,” Charlie said.
“Even with the stress of transplanting them?”
The conversation continued off and on for the next week. And one day, when they were out on a walk, they saw a car parked in front of Mr. Carl’s old house. They lingered on the sidewalk for a moment, uncertain whether it was the new neighbors. Just then, an older couple came around the corner of the house.
They weren’t as old as Mr. Carl, but they were probably a little too old to have kids Charlie’s age. Charlie decided to ask, just in case. “Are you moving into Mr. Carl’s old house? Do you have any kids my age?”
“Was this Mr. Carl’s house? I can tell he was a good gardener. I’m Mrs. Smith.” Mrs. Smith held out her hand and Charlie grinned and shook it.
“I’m Charlie,” Charlie said. “This is my mom and dad.”
“I’m Mr. Smith,” he held out his hand too and Charlie shook it. Then he shook hands with Marianne and Isaac. “We have kids, but they’re all grown up now, so we needed a smaller house.”
“You’re going to keep the garden, right?” Charlie asked.
“Of course we are,” Mrs. Smith said. “We love gardens.”
“So do we,” Marianne said. “Our house is right behind this one. We loved to talk about gardens over the fence with Mr. Carl.”
“That sounds lovely.” Mrs. Smith smiled. “I’m sure I’ll need advice on how to keep these plants healthy. I’ve only ever grown roses. Maybe once we’re all moved in, you can come over for cookies and help me develop a plan for the garden.”
That evening, Marianne and Charlie bought blueberry bushes and a rhubarb plant at the garden center. It took longer to move the irises than they expected, but they were happy with the new additions. They wrote to Mr. Carl and asked his advice on how to care for them.
A few weeks later, they helped the Smiths with their garden over cookies. It didn’t take long for the Smiths to settle into the neighborhood. Mrs. Smith and Marianne traded gardening tips and cookie recipes, and Isaac and Mr. Smith discussed tools and repairs. It almost seemed like they’d been neighbors for years instead of months.
“I feel kind of guilty for replacing Mr. Carl so quickly,” Charlie said one afternoon while they played a board game. “I feel like I’m not being a good friend.”
“I don’t think the Smiths are replacing Mr. Carl,” Marianne said, moving her piece to a green square. “They are our new gardening friends, but it’s not the same at all.”
Isaac drew a card and frowned. Back to the gumdrop mountains? “Part of life is change. Things don’t stay the same. We’re always living with a new normal. You keep getting taller and seeing things from a new angle. The seasons change from spring to summer. Gas just keeps getting more expensive. If we refused to acknowledge the new normal, it would be there all the same. Our lives would just be harder.”
Charlie drew a card and grinned. He moved his piece forward two yellow spaces. Then he frowned. “But wouldn’t Mr. Carl feel bad that we got new gardening friends?”
“But they aren’t replacing Mr. Carl really,” Marianne pointed out. “We still write him letters about our garden and ask him for advice. We just have more gardening friends.”
“We could share Mr. Carl’s address and they could write him too. Then we’d all have more gardening friends.” Charlie smiled.
“That’s a great idea.” Marianne drew a red and moved her piece.
“The new normal is pretty nice,” Charlie said. “We’re pretty lucky, aren’t we?”
Isaac drew a yellow and sighed. Stuck. Ah well. Marianne and Charlie laughed.
“Well, maybe not always lucky,” Charlie said. “But mostly.”
“I agree with that,” Isaac said.