To the Editor:
To gain perspective on an individual, we tell stories. And so it is with “Farmer Paul.” Some stories are more colorful than others; some are black and white. My story of Paul is, indeed, as colorful as his endless series of tropical-themed shirts, which he told me once he “purchased 100 of them at Target for $10.99.” He told me that in front of D.J. Crater with that impish smile of his and a twinkle in his eye. You knew he was kidding; but, one had to laugh out loud because he must have purchased the same shirt 100 times!
I met Paul in 2010, just six short years ago, when I was named council liaison to the Community Garden Committee. I was the perfect selection for the liaison position as I knew absolutely nothing about gardening. “Farmer Paul” leaned over to me at the first meeting and told me “don’t worry, in a few weeks, you’ll know as much as I do about gardening. You just have to do EVERYTHING I tell you to do.” Ok, I said, and I sheepishly bought a half-plot having no idea what I was doing.
Having been an engineer by training and profession, “Farmer Paul” was a detail guy. From the garden’s design and execution, estimates, maps and plans, plumbing and fencing no detail escaped his attention. He would say to me he was not a “politician” like me; so, he would need my help to line up support for the things he needed; but, he knew who I had to go to at Borough Hall, the Department of Public Works (DPW) and others. I sometimes wondered who the councilman was, me or him?
“Farmer Paul” was one of the last “luddites.” He had an e-mail address and would tell us “don’t send me e-mails because I don’t read them!” I wondered why he would have an e-mail address if he didn’t bother to read or send e-mail. I figured it must have come with cable TV. To this day, I still don’t know; but, I will bet you Paul had a perfectly good reason. Despite the fact “Farmer Paul” was on the Community Garden Committee, the truth was he hated, despised, and loathed administration. In other words, he didn’t like anything about administration. He wouldn’t accept any officer position on the committee. He would abstain on voting on minutes because he “had had enough of that in corporate life.”
When “Farmer Paul” was expected to zig, he zagged. When you needed him to zag, he zigged. He drove us crazy; but, we LOVED him.
I remember the first meeting of all gardeners held in the basement of the Library in March, 2010. The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. and, as a committee, we first discussed business at 6:30 p.m. “Farmer Paul” was already at the 7:30 p.m. meeting. It was just funny to watch. His mind was elsewhere. After the committee meeting was over, I asked “Farmer Paul” what the prizes were.
He had a garden spade, a garden rake, three sets of gardening gloves and the grand prize consisted of two bags of MANURE. I was dumbfounded. I said “Paul, really?, two bags of manure is the grand prize?” “Len, you have to understand, the goal is to grow the biggest crops, you can’t do that burying gloves, now can you?” He was right.
“Farmer Paul” retired at the age of 62 and followed his passion - gardening. They were the gifts that kept on giving, both Paul and gardening. “Farmer Paul” was a giving man. If you asked “Farmer Paul” for advice; you had to have had your notebook ready. He had plenty. And he gave of his knowledge freely. He knew of which he spoke. He always did.
He could disagree with you and he could sometimes be disagreeable and the conversation would end with an extended “okaaayy.” A few weeks later, you had to go back to him to admit he was right. He ALWAYS was. That’s what made him so annoying and LOVABLE. He was always right. I could never figure out how he would know this particular year would yield a bumper crop of a certain vegetable. I’d ask him and he’d tell me he had studied moon cycles, the Farmer’s Almanac and weather maps going back more than 50 years. And, darn it, he’d be RIGHT. If only he had devoted his passion to lottery numbers, he could have made me rich! Instead, all I got was an heirloom tomato.
But, there’s the rub. “Farmer Paul” made us all rich. He enriched our knowledge of the soil. He enriched our love of nature. He enriched our love of the four seasons and, most importantly, he enriched the love we have for one another and for those in need.
“Farmer Paul” was truly a renaissance man. Engineer and gardener. Corporate worker and corporate critic. He was a hero to young people teaching them how to grow things. He was a model citizen who selflessly gave of his time to the borough he loved and was an advocate for community gardening. “Farmer Paul” was a gentleman and a gentle man. He was one of a kind. There will never be one other.
“Farmer Paul” is now gone to the ages. He is already planning the HCG, the Heaven Community Garden. He will make gardening there a little more perfect. He always does. I sure hope he didn’t take two bags of manure as first prize. I don’t think God would like that.
Heaven’s gain is our great loss. We will miss him dearly in Chatham.
On behalf of both the Chatham Borough and Chatham Township governments and all members, past and present, of the Chatham Community Garden, we offer our sincerest condolences to “Farmer Paul’s” dear wife, Cecilia and his two loving sons, Frank and Paul as well as his grandchildren, extended familyand friends. May God be with you at this time and always.