There was a large man I interacted with today at work. I live in northeastern Pennsylvania but traveled to the Allentown/Easton area to help out a coworker. I mean, I say coworker, but if she were family it would be like a twice-removed fifth cousin, so she doesn’t really mean shit to me, but I’m a nice person so I will call her a coworker. The large man I saw in the town of Easton, he was about as big as the broadside of a barn and his frazzled beard looked like something you’d pull out of your sink drain when it is clogged beyond function. This guy looks at me, for a second I think he’s going to assault me for making eye contact, but he says, “Where’re your pansies?” in the gruffest example of a gentle giant I have ever witnessed. I pointed the carts out, they’re on sale right now because they’re almost out of season. He disappeared around the corner and I heard him bellow, “What the fuck does a pansy look like?”
I walked away. I had been having a rough day and wasn’t inclined to help a bellowing bear. A few minutes later the gentleman walks by with a 6-pack of yellow-and-black pansies and a 12″ color bowl of all-yellow pansies. The cold weather kind. I said, “Oh, those are my favorite ones, that is my favorite shade of yellow.” He looked at them and grinned this disarmingly toothless smile, “Yeah,” he says, “My boss wants me to plant them at his mom’s house.”

“It’s a great way to spend a misty afternoon though, huh?” I asked, and he stopped for a moment to consider his reply which was, “It beats the hell out of jackhammering on a bridge all day.”

This struck me as curious and I filled in the blanks in my head.

So Phil the Pansy Planter was working on an as-we-need-you schedule for a small construction crew, family operation type of gig. Phil is getting on in years and even though he knows his way around a sledgehammer he’s not exactly first in line for high-profile work. But Phil’s boss likes Phil plenty, and he finds little odd jobs to keep Phil working so he doesn’t look the gruff guy. One of those jobs is having Phil plant flowers at the boss’s mother’s house. Not just any flower, no, these were pansies. Fucking pansies, the queerest sounding flower out there. Phil wasn’t happy, but as he figured out what the fuck a pansy was he decided that the colors were actually not all that bad, especially the yellow. It was a good yellow.

So he grabbed them and he bought them and he followed the directions to his boss’s mother’s house, and he deciphered the shitty description his boss provided of where to plant the flowers. He gets the D-handle shovel from the shed and he breaks ground and he digs the hole wide and deep enough to plant the pansies proper. He gets down on his knees, for a bunch of pansies none the less, and as he removes the flowers from their plastic cells he hears a bird call in the background.

Just a bird, right? Well, it’s the first time Phil listened to a bird since he was a kid. I mean, really listened. He looks around and spots it, it’s a robin. It’s not singing, it’s chirping. For a few seconds Phil remembers when he was 11 years old and climbing trees with his friends at the park during the baseball game because he was never really into the whole sports thing, tree climbing was more in his area of interest. So fill allows himself a brief smile, it isn’t like he can’t contain it, but it isn’t hard to make happen either. The damp soil of the pansy pack feels good on his hand, which is interesting by itself because he didn’t even notice how it felt before. Phil packs the flowers into the ground and backfills the hole with his bare hands. The rocks are rough on his fingers but his hands are tough enough that he shouldn’t feel a thing.

Phil’s done before he knows it, and he stands up with a grunt of exertion. The flowers are planted. A knock on the window from his boss’s mom reveals a thumbs up; she approves of the work Phil has done. Phil waves and returns the shovel to the shed, hops in his car and leaves. He circles the block once so he can see the flowers in the ground from the road side, and he feels damn proud of the work he did. “Those are some fine fuckin’ pansies,” he says to himself.

And a few times a week Phil is going to drive around that block. He’ll go out of his way to make the trip, but he checks out how the flowers are doing.