A story of a special veteran from the greatest generation and a little boy who makes each day worth waking up for him…
Erling Kindem is in his garden early. He has one final task before his 16-mile car trip.
“This was Emmett’s bush,” says the 89-year-old WWII veteran hunched over a tomato plant and reaching for the red fruit. “See all the ‘matoes’ he’s going to have.”
A friendship that went from backyard to viral video is about to add a new chapter.
It’s been two weeks since Emmett Rychner, the 3-year-old next door, moved with his family to a house at the edge of a Rice County cornfield.
Erling tears up thinking about it. “It’s kind of lonely out here sometimes you know,” he says.
He’s not the only one who has missed the way things used to be, when Emmett would stop by daily for gardening, croquet matches and lawn mower races.
“A move is hard on anybody, especially little ones,” says Anika Rychner in the living room of her family’s new home. At her feet, her son Emmett, days from his 4th birthday, builds a Lincoln Log cabin.
Anika hangs on the words her son spoke in the first days after the move. “‘I want to go to our old house, I don’t like our new house.'”
But today will be different.
“Hey Emmitt,” Anika asks her son, “when Erling comes do you know what he’s going to bring?”
“Maybe a big tomato,” responds Emmett.
One big tomato and several smaller ones are in a plastic bag on the seat next to Erling as he motors down Highway 3 from Farmington to Dundas.
Erling’s face lights up as he turns the corner onto Emmett’s street and spots his friend on his toy John Deere riding tractor. “There’s that little tyke,” he says out loud through a broad smile.
The driver’s side door opens and Emmett runs to the car, snatching the tomatoes from Erling’s hands. “Wait a minute, don’t break ’em,” cautions Erling. The largest tomato is already in Emmett’s mouth.
“It’s like no time has gone by,” says Anika. “They didn’t miss a beat.”
The first Emmett and Erling play date is on.
“Oh, this is real neat Emmett, look at this,” says Erling as he follows Emmett upstairs to his new upstairs bedroom. “Oh, you’ve got a nice view.”
Erling points at the tall corn in the farm field that adjoins the Rychners’ backyard. “Pretty soon the farmer is going to cut that corn down,” he says to Emmett who has joined him at the bedroom window. “They got to feed the animals,” Erling tells Emmett.
Two best friends, one with so much to teach, the other so hungry to learn.
“Why do you step down a little slower,” asks Emmett as the two walk together down the stairs and out onto the patio.
Erling pulls out his hearing aid and opens a tiny cover. “There’s the battery,” he instructs.
Emmett studies the tiny power source and inquires, “Why do you need batteries for your ear motor?”
Is it any wonder, on moving day, neither wanted to let go? Anika documented the moment with her camera – a hug between two best friends in the living room of their empty Farmington home. She apologizes for the picture being out of focus, explaining she was crying when she took it.
“It was good while it lasted,” says Erling. Voice cracking, he adds, “It isn’t over.”
In a few days Emmett will be moving too. His relocation with his ailing wife to a senior apartment in Burnsville is also hard.
But his former neighbors are as committed as he is to keeping the visits going. “He already said he’s going to stop by on Thursday with more tomatoes,” smiles Anika, “So we know he’ll be back.”
Bryan Ryncher, Emmett’s dad, recent brought a home a John Deere riding lawn mower for his family’s larger lawn. “Almost identical to my mower,” smiles Erling.