My dad scared me pretty much my whole childhood. He was a hard worker, he provided for the family, but he was unpredictable, and we never knew what would happen. We moved to the lake when I was 5 or 6. I remember him taking me fishing, but he had no patience for it, or with taking me or my brother along. He purchased the back lots across the road from the lake house and began gardening when I was about 6 or 7. At first he didn’t have much success. But then he began to study organic gardening and gradually his garden became more prolific and larger every year. The moments when he was at peace seemed to be when he was gardening. It became his lifelong hobby.
Sometimes I would wander down to the garden. My dad was always calm and relaxed when he was working the soil. He always had something to teach me, whether it was how to plant seeds, how to pinch suckers off the tomato plants, or how to wrap a strip of cardboard around transplants to deter cutworms. He never ran out of teachable moments and he was a walking encyclopedia of organic gardening. I was drawn to gardening forever after, I think, just because this was the only positive connection I had with him. For these moments we spent, bent down, heads together, peering at the dirt were like a balm. For a brief period, I could forget about the heart-pounding moments that I dreaded for so many of my days and nights. He was a different person, smiling, eager to share what he knew with me. This is what I wanted my dad to be like all of the time.
Perhaps that’s why even to this day, gardening, for me, is not about the end product. It’s about the process, the doing, and teaching. Most often, it is teaching. I find myself sharing gardening tips with my daughter or my husband. He asks me how I know, and I feel slightly surprised, realizing that up until that very moment, I had forgotten that I even had that knowledge tucked away in my brain. It just bubbles up to the surface on occasion. I like to think of it as a gift from my dad. Now that he is gone, it feels good to be able to accept these nice surprises from him. I am more and more able to remember the garden and less and less able to remember the fear.
Waiting for those words of wisdom.