Matteo showed up one semester and sat in the front row, a stocky, round-faced, round-headed man, balding, with a fringe of white hair. His appearance, in itself, was not unusual, since students of all shapes and sizes present themselves, nor was his age, really, which I judged to be somewhere west of sixty-five. My classes frequently include students ranging in age from sixteen and not yet out of high school, to grandparents who are finally able to begin the college education they have always hoped for. Matteo said he’d come to the U.S. from Sicily at some undisclosed period in his youth, took a job, married, had children and then grandchildren--a pretty average story for this part of the world. Other than his self-confident air and loud voice, there was nothing to make me think about him too much.
This changed one evening when I talked about gardening, which I don’t teach. However, since I believe everything is connected, wherever I am, gardening and the environment get mentioned. At this, Matteo came alive. "Ms. Fisher, I didn't know you are a gardener. I am too."
"That's nice," I said. But Matteo persisted. In a subsequent conversation he discovered that, while I have an understanding of perennial food plants such as berries and herbs, I’m a newbie when it comes to serious annual vegetable gardening. He began to share his knowledge. Some he brought with him from Sicily, some he’s picked up elsewhere, and all has been honed in his modest backyard.