A legacy of tulips

Did you ever play Wiffle Ball? Growing up, it was the summer pastime of choice in my suburban New Jersey neighborhood. Every day, kids would congregate on the side street by my house, choose sides and have at it. Games were noisy affairs, punctuated by lots of arguments over close calls, and could last for hours. It wasn’t unusual for us to suspend a game for dinner and then reconvene afterwards. In fact, I remember finishing one game under the glare of a neighbor’s headlights.

It was a pretty safe game, too, thanks to the hollow plastic Wiffle Ball. It would glance harmlessly off just about anything it hit.

The exception was Mr. Daly’s tulips.

Mr. and Mrs. Daly lived on the other side of the street. They were a very pleasant, elderly couple and they tolerated us kids pretty well. Unfortunately, Mr. Daly insisted on planting tulips outside the chain link fence bordering his backyard. He was quite proud of those tulips and the bright red and yellow blooms they provided each spring – and he became quite upset whenever a sharply hit foul ball lopped the top off one of them. Or two. Or three. Not that we wanted to damage the flowers; they were just innocent bystanders that occasionally got caught in our Wiffle Ball crossfire.

The 1960s, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Daly, are long gone. But a recent experience brought all those memories back to me. In early July, my wife Halina and I traveled back to New Jersey to visit family. One day, we drove through my old neighborhood. I couldn’t resist stopping to look at my old house, now vastly enlarged from the little bungalow in which I grew up. I walked around the house and took a few pictures – and it wasn’t long before I caught the attention of one of the neighbors, who probably figured I was casing the place for a robbery.

He strolled over, a glass of beer in hand, and asked if I needed some help. I introduced myself and told him I grew up in the neighborhood. We started chatting, and soon I found myself in the middle of a small crowd of neighbors, answering questions about what things were like in the old days, and who used to live where. During the course of our chat, I mentioned our Wiffle Ball games and the many tulips we beheaded.

Finally, the time came to say goodbye. As I was about to leave, the neighbor currently living in the Daly’s old house said, “You know, I’m glad you mentioned about the tulips. They keep sprouting up and I had no idea where they came from.”

As Halina and I drove away, the thought of those tulips – Mr. Daly’s legacy to the neighborhood – filled me with a warm glow. The experience reminded me that legacies can take many forms, be they video biographies or tulips – and that they enrich and inform the lives of the generations that follow.

Nice job, Mr. Daly.

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