Parker learned to keep quiet. Most of his high school days were spent dreaming of the outdoors. He loved to garden. His favorite season was the Springtime when gardeners all across the city nurtured the daffodils, tulips and crocuses that splashed color through grey and brown hues of the city. He loved seeing all the rose bushes sprout their tender red shoots and then bloom into explosions of color. He loved the warm, radiating heat of the Springtime sun. It was brilliant contrast to the dull yellow glow of the florescent lights of the high school. Hell, he believed, was illuminated by the light of florescent light tubes.
When he left high school he left behind the institutional sterility of modern life. Parker’s parents pushed him to pursue a university education. Parker resisted. Once he sat on that new John Deere tractor he was hooked. Both his older brother and sister, Sheaffer and Conway, attended McMaster. Sheaffer studied medicine and moved to Toronto to work at Sick Kids Hospital. Conway became a jeweler. She also moved to Toronto and worked for DeBeers. Parker’s parents eventually gave up hope for their youngest son and retired in London. That left Parker all alone to care for the grounds of Gage Park.
Parker, along with six other guys, maintained the largest park in lower Hamilton. The only thing they had in common was the pride they took in their work. With Hamilton’s reputation as a dirty city their park was an oasis of beauty. They planted the gardens along the Main street frontage. They tended to the hundreds of mature trees that covered the grounds of the park. As a team they developed the green house in which they built tropical garden filled with ponds and even a waterfall. The waterfall, bragged Parker’s supervisor, represents the fact that Hamilton has more waterfalls within its city limits than any other city in the world. Parker embraced his job with a missionary fervor. He was a protector of beauty, a savior of the natural environment. Without him the city would be a less hospitable place.
Parker lived at Cumberland Gage. It was a short walk from his apartment to the park. His unit faced the escarpment. Looking out his window he could imagine that there was no city behind him, that he lived at the edge of civilization. At the base of the escarpment law the CN rail lines. Trains would pass through every night at two and five am. Over time even these slipped beyond his notice.
Time can often be cruel to the complacent. The routines of life, the comfort of the familiar can dull our senses and time can slip by without notice. Yet time always brings inexorable change. The young Parker that fled the florescent tombs of high school almost unnoticeably transformed into a man plunging headlong into middle age. Thirty-three is not old, he convinced himself, but there was no denying that time had played its sinister trick.
Parker began to think about his place in the world. He devoted his life to the preservation of beauty in a steel city. He strived to preserve a green space for families to enjoy. Now at thirty-three years of age, he knew of no one of those families. He had his co-workers, Greg, Dale, Raminder, Byron, Socrates and his supervisor Ben. They all had families of their own. After fifteen years it amazed Parker how little he knew of each of them. Most of his days were spent in that John Deere tractor or cleaning trash out of the stream. He was always alone. The only time he worked closely with anyone else was when they all prepared for the mum show in late October. It was one of Parker’s favorite times of the year. He loved watching people admire the displays they’d spent months to prepare. But like the other grounds keepers, he was anonymous to the crowd of spectators. Life had become exactly what Parker had made it to be. It was simple, predictable and solitary.