I thought of her as the Red Hat Lady. Later I learned her name is Laura. A young woman, she wore a red wool hat with a short brim, the kind of tailored hat older ladies wear to church in the winter. She wore it pulled low just above her eyes and kept her face to her task, planting the seedlings her helper gave her one by one. She barely even looked at her helper. Her hidden face was focused strictly on the plant, to the hole in the soil, to tucking the plant into the hole, and back to her helper’s hands holding the next plant. She didn’t chat or look at anyone else, nor did she seem to be listening to the conversations of others in the garden. I only watched her briefly because the red hat told me she would not relinquish her privacy, and I get that. When I’m crawling along my garden rows with my straw hat pulled low, my face in the plants like a grazing rhino, I too am unavailable for conversation; and you can’t tell by looking at me whether I’m friendly, or happy, or not.
When we all finished gardening and gathered at the tables in the shade, I was surprised to see Laura with the red hat in her hand. Her cheeks were bright pink and her dark hair was curled with sweat into ringlets across her forehead. She was surveying the scene, looking pooped but self-satisfied, leaning back onto a picnic table next to her helper. Laura the Red Hat Lady laughed at something her helper said to her, and after she laughed a big smile stayed on her face. I could tell by looking at her, in that radiant moment that comes after gardening, that she was friendly, and happy, for real.