But I don’t like vegetables. The most incredible gardener I’ve ever known is without a doubt, my father. Years ago, mom relayed the story that shortly after they married, my dad announced, as was his customary way of communication, he was going out to get the garden started. My young, twenty-something mother simply said, “Garden? But I don’t like vegetables.” Today, 50+ years later, I’m pretty sure there has been a garden every year, for my whole life.
Gardens. Gardens. At their first “little house” it was a little garden, to break Mom in easy I suppose. Next was the larger, but still small “house on Martha street.” It was a plot beside the garage that grew lots and of red and yellow tomatoes. I loved them so much, I’d eat until I got sores in my mouth. In 1973 we moved to our “5-acre home in the country.” Dad lost all sense, or perhaps just wanted to drive his antique tractor, and tilled up a huge, acre-sized section of earth that ultimately yielded mass sums of fresh vegetables in every color and shape, even though it’s former life was that of an Iowa corn field .
Sweet corn by the Fourth. Every summer, his goal was to have sweet corn by the Fourth of July. Burgers on the grill and just-off-the-stalk sweet corn. Dad had mom get the water boiling before going to the garden. He’d pick, husk, run the ears to the house and into the pot. That was good eatin’! In time, he’d bring in a few handfuls of fresh peas. Mom and I were crazy eating those sweet little green pearls. What I suspect now, is he’d been eating those pearls while working in the garden for a week or more already before sharing with his green-pea loving women. Pretty soon, we’d have five gallon buckets of green pods. I shelled and mom blanched and froze into neat little freezer bags. My keenness for baseball “grew” during those years, because shelling five gallon buckets of peas takes a VERY long time – nearly as long as a major league baseball game on TV.
Over the summers, there were multiple buckets of beets, peas, beans, tomatoes, peppers, and hundreds of pounds of potatoes out of Dad’s weed-free and orderly garden. Mom froze, canned, and stored up all she could for our family of three. But we couldn’t keep up. Many family and friends, and friends of friends, showed up with buckets, bags and containers to pick their fill. You could stand in one place and fill a bucket with whatever was in front of you. Mom used to say the beans were laughing at her. She’d pick a bucket to the brim, turn around and there were still more hanging there.
Dad coaxed so much beautiful produce out of such an ugly spot of worn out ground. I don’t know if he thought so much about being “organic” as he thought about simply doing it, right. Dad was like that. Do it right. He didn’t have time to do anything twice.
Glenwood house. The summer of 1979, Dad had a job change and we moved to their beloved “Glenwood (Minnesota) house.” Just like every year, Dad went out the next spring to “start the garden.” Thru most of their 37 years there, Dad tended gardens, of varying sizes, with varying produce along with some apple trees. I was finishing high school and speeding off into my emerging adult life so I don’t remember much about those gardens. In spite of fussing for years that flowers were no good, can’t eat them, eventually, there were annuals and a few Minnesota-tough perennials waiving their pretty colors all around the front yard. He battled deer, bunnies and pests – and tried to beat the neighbor to “first ripe tomato” of the season. One summer, Dad tied bars of deodorant soap to poles, or maybe a fence, which he’d heard would deter deer. After some weeks, he decided they just “warsh up” with the soap before eating.
As the years progressed from the “I don’t like vegetables” moment, they synced into their own rhythm. Mom chose veggies, colors and flora. Dad planted, water and nurtured. Putting fruit and veggies in those neat little freezer bags, and mason jars became a joint effort.
Nurturing. Funny thing, nurturing. My dad was 5’8″ and solid muscle, more determined than a twister in tornado alley. He was a man of action, tenacity, few words and even less patience. He worked full time at a job, then a second full-day at home. Mowing. Cleaning. Car maintenance. Fixing. Organizing. Building. Painting. Wallpapering. And then do it all again when mom changed her color scheme. Nurturing was not an obvious descriptor for Dad. Busier than a beaver would be more accurate.
Except for dogs and plants. I wasn’t allow to watch “Lassie” as a young sprout. Dad couldn’t abide “sad dog stories” – or naughty kid tales. He loved, and still has a squishy soft spot in his heart for dogs. His sweet pup, Dezel, was his alter-ego. Recently, Dez went to live with a new mommy who can take better care of him.
With mom and me, the nurturing took on a different facade – that of “I told you I loved you and when I change my mind, I’ll let you know.” Dad never changed his mind on much of anything. Drove him crazy when others did. We always knew he loved us by the way he took care of us, our home and worked so hard to make things nice.
Mom and Dad moved in May of 2016 to their “condo” home to be closer to family. He’s not able to garden any more as aging and memory loss has robbed him of much. His eyes still twinkle, and he has his own brand of wit – even if I’m not always sure he knows he’s making a wise crack.
It is sad to see my brut-personality dad fading. Physically he’s a shell of the man he once was. A brilliant man with near genius I.Q., now can’t figure out the air conditioning settings. He ate fast, moved fast, accomplished much in a day. Now, he watches TV, or rather sleep-watches TV, and eats and remembers when …
Silver lining. There is a silver lining. There is always a silver lining. Dad has lost that filter that kept him from saying things like, “I love you.” He isn’t worried about being tough, now. He’s tender. He loves when we visit, eat lunch with them, and if there are brownies … well, one is never too old for chocolate. He wants a hug when we leave. He is the first one to say “Love you” in my ear as I embrace his thin shoulders. He enjoys when my adult daughters come over, call him Grampa, laugh at his jokes, give him hugs. More “love-yous,” more brownies. Later, he will ask mom, “Who were those girls?”
No matter what life brings to you, grow your relationships. Nurture them. Plant them securely in your heart. Store each memory up, fresh, in the moment. Open those neat little freezer bags of remembering often and share with your friends, neighbors, children. Don’t be afraid of love-yous. Eat chocolate. Hug. Do things right. Not twice.
Yes, some relationship “seeds” will falter, dry up and fade. I believe, with nurturing, we can make most of our relationships delicious, like sweet corn just off the stalk, in the pot, to your plate, on the Fourth of July.