For a time when my grandmother was about 70, her cousin Albert came to live in her upstairs flat.
Albert was a bachelor, a man of about Annie's age who'd been a merchant seaman, a common occupation here on the Great Lakes. Retired now, and in failing health, he moved into the apartment where Mémere and Pépere raised their brood of children at the end of the 19th century.
Albert planted a garden in the backyard between the old shed and the lilac bushes. He grew carrots, radishes, cucumbers, onions, green beans and tomatoes - all the staples of Annie's summer table.
The orderly rows intrigued me. So did the seed packets attached to ice-cream bar sticks and stuck into the soil. I seem to recall some sort of scarecrow, which might have worked on the birds, but did not deter the occasional marauding rabbit.
I spent plenty of summer mornings with Annie, playing in the backyard while Albert weeded the garden and Annie strung her laundry along her vast network of clotheslines, propped up with weathered wooden poles. There was a mild indentation in the yard (the site of a former flower bed) and I was convinced this might have been a rabbit hole (repeatedly throwing myself into it did not send me hurling into Wonderland, however).
Mid afternoon after his nap, Albert would head for one of the watering holes a block away on Mason Avenue, returning just before supper, sometimes weaving his way down Bellevue Street. My grandmother did not approve of this pastime and she would be tight lipped through most of the supper hour.
Albert would step out into his garden again as the summer sun sank into the sky and the band concerts started over at Frenchtown Park.
Tucked into bed at night, I wondered about the rabbits out among the rows of vegetables, and I hoped the beating of my heart was not actually the sound of a wolf coming to get me.
When Albert lived at Annie's house, we had plenty of fresh vegetables. After he left, and subsequently died in a veteran's hospital, Annie had to make do with the farm market, the growers who went door to door, and the generosity of her neighbors with gardens. She had a few small patches, of rhubarb and radishes, but the garden was never as vast as it was when Albert came to stay.
It won't be long now until the local farm markets open. I'll buy tomato plants of course. I had a bumper crop last year. What will this summer bring?