My father passed away in March, so I wasn’t sure what to do on Father’s Day weekend.
I wrote a check in his memory to a favorite charity and then headed to the community garden that my two sons and I are growing with three other families. We call ourselves The Green Thumbs.
The garden had developed a slight 5 o’clock shadow after a week of periodic rain and thunder.
I grabbed a cardboard box and started filling it up with grass that I wished was growing in my yard instead of in the vegetable patch. I worked my way around the tomatoes and squash. Someone else had taken care of the watermelon and cantaloupe mounds. My arms were working at great speed until I got to the carrots. The job to eradicate the unwanted sprouts around these demanded more than a few bend overs and squats. I opted to grab a cloth grocery bag from the back of the car, plopped it down in the dirt, sat myself cross-legged by the patch thick with overgrowth and started the gentle process of distinguishing the difference between delicate carrot tops and thick blades of grass.
As I tackled the job, my mind started to think about my father.
Although he wasn’t a gardener, he enjoyed hunting, fishing and observing wildlife. His main hobby was yard work. My parents’ lawn was the envy of the neighborhood. He mowed, edged, trimmed and plucked weeds almost to an obsession. And when he finished with his yard, he headed to my grandmother’s house, then to my home, and on to his yard at the beach.
My idea of yard work is to mow as quickly as possible and move on to other activities. So I couldn’t understand why he spent so much time squatted in the discomfort of blue jeans next to a bucket in the Southern humidity to look for stray dandelions and invading clover to pull out of the earth with his strong carpenter hands.
Sometimes on my way to do a chore, I would find him taking a break in the shade of my side porch. He would be covered in sweat and wiping his brow with a white cotton handkerchief or sipping water or Pepsi from a pint cup he carried from his house. His un-air-conditioned pick-up truck with the windows rolled down was parked in the street so as not to block my access to the driveway.
“Where are you going?” he would ask.
Usually, I was headed to meet friends or somewhere routine such as work, shopping or the grocery store.
“Aren’t you almost done?” I would ask, thinking the grass was mowed so his job must be complete.
“I’ve got a little more,” he would answer, which meant a few additional hours.
I would come home from my errands to find him plucking more weeds near the white azaleas in the backyard flower bed. If he saw me, I’d wave before going inside the house. He silently disappeared sometime between suppertime and sunset leaving behind an immaculate lawn that professionals couldn’t duplicate.
In the community garden, I sat filling up my cardboard box and trying to figure out why he embraced this chore.
A bluebird flew by in the distance. My dad liked watching birds. But people can watch birds without picking weeds.
I enjoyed the solitude and thinking time that came with the outdoor task. But I could sit on my deck and read a book if I wanted to be alone.
Eventually, another Green Thumb joined me in the garden and we finished pulling grass in our target area until all that was left were carrot tops. We roped them off so no one would accidentally step on them, and I headed home.
Pulling into the driveway, I glanced at my yard. Although my son had done a great job of mowing, our grass was growing in two shades of green – a clue that we must have accidentally put down different types of seed. Bees were hovering over clumps of clover. Dandelions were scattered. Vegetation was growing in the cracks of the sidewalk. Mulch was needed in the flowerbeds. This was a yard that clearly needed my daddy’s attention. But our home would have to settle for mine.
I shut off the car in the driveway and headed for the garage to find an empty bucket and a tool that pulls dandelions at their roots. I started in the front yard using my tool, then bending down to pull clumps of various unidentified but unsightly weeds. I removed stray branches from bushes and trees. I spread mulch in the flower beds and clipped the rose bushes.
My oldest son, who was studying for final exams, emerged at some point to see what I was doing. He offered to get me a cup of water. His younger brother was at the movies with friends. I worked on until I was satisfied, although the job was not even close to being finished. I put away my tools, set the yard trash by the curb and took my water cup to the kitchen sink where I washed my hands and started putting a skink full of dirty plates, cups and forks into the dishwasher.
The view from my kitchen window overlooks my neighbor’s lawn. I admired its consistent fresh color and uniform height.
When the last bowl went into the dishwasher, I realized that I don’t enjoy doing the dishes much. But like the weeds on our front lawn, stray cups and spoons continually pop up on the countertop. It’s my job to make them disappear. I could add the chore to my sons’ to-do lists, but at their ages they need that extra time to study and forge friendships. They tackle many other tasks around the house. So I do the dishes, every day without a second thought. It’s an act of love – a lesson from my father.
I’m such a slow learner.