After that, he and Buck will probably go out to breakfast. Eating is his "last bad habit," Buck says, and almost every morning he can be found packing away pancakes and sausage at Pomponio's DX Restaurant and Lounge in northwest Denver. In fact, when he doesn't show up by 10 a.m., he gets a call from a solicitous waitress named Vangie.

At Pomponio's, Buck will remind Vangie and Apostolopoulos of their common Greek roots, and soon everybody will consider themselves part of his neighborhood. "I like Buck very much," Apostolopoulos says. "His storytelling. The way he is fair. I get a feeling of compassion from him."

Three generations of Oletskis are seated at the breakfast table, with Vangie presiding over the group. Two-year-old Nicholas is eating non-dairy creamer and shaking his long blond hair out of his eyes. "You want me to get you a haircut, boy?" Buck asks him. "I took your older brother for his first haircut, and it took two of us to hold him down."

"His mother would kill you," says Georgine, who is babysitting her nephew for the day. Then Vangie arrives with coffee and news of the sudden death of a regular customer, who was only sixty. Talk immediately turns to the grisly mistakes some hospitals make. Despite the fact that he was the victim of a similar outrage, Buck seems to relish the discussion almost as much as his breakfast.

"...and it punctured her intestine!" Georgine concludes.
"No," Vangie clucks.
"Let me tell you something," Buck begins. "All the time I had a garden, the only time that I took off from doing the gardening was '92, '93 and '94, and all I did was hardly nothing but talk. I couldn't even bend over to pull a weed or kneel in church!"

"What happened was, we took him to the hospital with a bad gall bladder," Georgine recalls. "They operated and left a seven-inch piece of suction tube in there."

"For nineteen months!" Buck says. "That doctor must have been full of his old home brew. Ha!"

The suction tube finally came out, and Buck went back to weeding, kneeling in church, and all the other midsection-heavy activities he enjoys. "Every February, I cook roasts for 800 people at the Guardian Angels church," he says. "I can do that this year. I'm going to use a lot of garlic. I like garlic. I like meat a lot, too. If you want a good steak, you should come to Mickey's with me some Saturday night. I'll be out of mass by 6 p.m., and we can go."

"You look healthy, Buck," Vangie says, as she passes by again with the coffee pot.

"And sometimes," he retorts, "I even feel that way."
"The doctors know he's doing too much," Georgine says. "They tell him to do something simple, like just get the mail out of the mailbox. But they know he's a strong old man."

"Yeah, they tell me to quit, quit, quit," Buck laughs. "Quit gardening? If I quit gardening, I'd quit me."

So after breakfast the Oletskis pile into their car and drive home to the garden, where a thaw is under way and a pile of horse manure is breaking down in the sun.

"You would think it could never hurt you," Buck says. "But don't count on it. What hurts is when my garden is in bloom and I go off fishing with my whole family and a hailstorm comes up and when I get home, my whole garden looks like toothpicks. But would you believe the tomatoes recover? And maybe the hail makes them stronger?"

Georgine and Nicholas disappear inside her house. Up the block, another door opens and Diane--"my tomboy daughter," Buck brags--emerges with her barrel-racing daughter-in-law. "And she rescues animals," Buck says. "She come over here once with three raccoons! Have you met her?"

Mike Lilgerose, who lives in a tiny wooden house in Buck's backyard, comes out to the garden holding a bottle. He is 31 years old, developmentally disabled, wreathed in smiles. "I got juice, Grampa!" he tells Buck.

"You see, he's kind of a displaced child," Buck explains. "He's maybe a little slow, and the family's been caring for him.

"Come over here, Mike," he says. "Come over here and talk to me.

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