Father's Day tends to slip by relatively unnoticed around here. My dad and my father-in-law are both gone and the kids' dad hasn't been a part of their lives for quite some time. However, all is not sadness and bad luck. I struck it rich in the dad department.
My dad was one of those rare men who was able but not
filled with himself, sincere, honest and caring. He could build a barn or
put in a sprinkler system, create a garden, arrange flowers artistically,
bathe a child, sing silly songs (he had a large repertoire of these), cut
a mean pile of firewood. He took us along on jobs. He loved my mother; I
never heard them speak an unkind word to each other. He could make perfect
pie crust--thin and flaky and tender. He had a weakness for his sister's
molasses cookies, and in the summer he ate sliced tomatoes fresh from the
garden with every meal except breakfast.
He worked us hard but I regret now the many times I told him he was a slave driver. We had a family business built around cut flowers that were sold to a prestigious San Francisco florist (Podesta Baldocchi) and it took all our combined efforts to make it work. This meant whole summer days, sometimes from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., spent at our two-acre growing field, weeding and planting, tending and watering. Vacations were no part of our experience. At home there were always plants to water and (it seemed) a sea of dahlias to disbud (you pick off all the side buds to get a larger flower from the one at the top of the stem.)
It was only years later that I realized that as a kid, he'd had it a lot harder than we did, so the assignments he gave us probably seemed easy to him by comparison. By the time he was in junior high school, he was producing most of the family food: plowing fields with the help of the family horse (and one little sister who sat atop the horse), tending plants and animals and doing the butchering for a family of nine (his dad worked for a newspaper in town, but like many Depression-era families, they lived in the country where they could grow their own food.)
Dad gave me the gift of time. Because he was self-employed, and because gardening is a weather-dependent profession, Dad was around quite a bit. Even as a kid I felt lucky to actually know my dad while so many of my friends seemed not to have much of a relationship with theirs. Dad nurtured in me a love of color and plants. He fished for firewood at the edge of the creek when the winter waters were rain-swollen. He loved to read funny stories aloud to us that he found in the Reader's Digest.
Best of all, he was a man not confined within the strictures of the macho male model. It didn't dent his self-image to be gentle, to sing a nursery rhyme or hang laundry on the line to dry. And I'm glad I took the time to tell him how much I admired this in him while he was still around to hear it.
Even today, ten years and one day after he departed this existence, my sister continues to meet new people who knew my dad. They talk about his wonderful gardens, the spectacular flowers he grew that continue to brighten their memories, and what a genuinely warm person he was.
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