Two Daves, one lemon

Cultivating good deeds collides with cultivation.

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If what I read in the papers is true, Russian scientists were able to grow an antique campion plant from a 32,000-year-old Siberian seed, which irritates me, because I can't even sprout an aster from last year's packet. They claim the campion seed had been buried in a burrow by a squirrel, where the seed froze solid, and was only recently recovered and prodded into life. They're excited about growing an old campion next to a new campion and studying the evolution of a plant in real time. But they'd better keep a close eye on it, or somebody might take it, like Homeless Dave.

That's what happened to our lemon. Homeless Dave was but one of a wealth of Daves we have in the neighborhood. There is Big Dave, Little Dave, Store Dave, Old Dave, and Republican Dave, who moved away in search of lower taxes. My husband (Old Dave) had befriended Homeless Dave, if by "befriended" you mean "didn't run away screaming from."

Homeless Dave was a toothless Vietnam War vet with a mohawk, a drug problem, and a voice that could make bridges go up and down. He favored beads and feathers, found shiny objects, large knives, and really large knives. He would show up at inopportune times (although, to be truthful, no time was particularly good) and bellow conversationally until you gave him some food. Over several years he never learned my name, but he called my Dave "Namesake." Dave, who has a saintly nature he tries to obscure with curmudgeonliness, paid attention to him and occasionally cooked him meals. We are both of the Vietnam War generation and have a soft spot for its casualties, but my husband's spots are softer than mine.

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One cold night, while we slept, Homeless Dave came by and built a raging bonfire in our barbecue and dragged it under the eaves of our house, where he was trying to escape the wind. The neighbor across the alley phoned us up to ask politely if we were on fire.

Dave brought Homeless Dave inside long enough to get a hot meal in him and sent him away while I crossed "social work" off my list of aspirations. I'm not proud of this. But Homeless Dave was a pain. I wanted him to be safe, warm, happy, and somewhere else.

About the lemon. My Dave loves lemons, but we live a few zones north of where they're comfortable. Then we found, and bought, a lemon tree that was said to be hardy to 20 degrees F. And it was. It was hardy, but that didn't mean it was in a good mood.

Come March, it was usually downright morose.

We kept it outside in a pot, knitted sweaters for it, spooned juice into it, and sang to it. Finally, after about 10 years, it began putting out experimental fragrant flowers, a few of which finally resolved into tiny fruits around five minutes to winter. We watched them carefully as they struggled to grow. After about eight months they began to veer yellow, and we lost all but one. That one got fatter and yellower until Dave pronounced it just about ready to eat.

One summer day he came around the back of the house to find Homeless Dave mopping juice off his grin.

"Great lemon, Namesake!" he bellowed. "Best I ever had!" My husband fingered his pruning shears and allowed himself a dark thought. Then he let him go with stern words and an omelet.

Homeless Dave meant well. He began to show up with useless gifts, some of them scavenged and some of them stolen. Then came the day he pounded on the door before dawn with an attitude and a knife that wouldn't have looked amiss on Orion, demanding attention from my Dave as he tried to leave for work. Dave told him he'd worn out his welcome.

We don't know where he is now, but if he showed up bearing a bouquet of 32,000-year-old campion flowers, it wouldn't surprise us in the least.

And it would be a blow to science.

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