My father was never an easy man to talk to.
At least for me, that was the case.
If I was going to visit him, I’d make mental notes of things he might find interesting…that might force a grin…that would not be judged “Nonsense!”
When I moved to Beaver Island, my communication with Dad was mostly through letters. I collected tidbits to write to him about.
I do it, still, though he’s been gone fifteen years.
If I count six deer on my way to town, my first thought is that Dad would be glad to hear that.
A good stack of firewood in preparation for the winter, a new building going up in town, the health and well-being of any of the “old-timers” he’d remember…these were all good topics.
The garden was always a welcome subject, with Dad.
He’s not the only one!
I remember a day many summers ago when Peter “Doney” and his wife, Dolores, came to the island. They were late in arriving that year, as their oldest daughter had recently passed away. Throngs of Beaver Islanders were on the dock that day, to greet them, and to offer their sympathy.
Dolores took it all in stride: the hugs and tears and words of comfort.
Peter’s face was set in a grimace, and he seemed to wince at every encounter.
Then Russell Green, the ferryboat captain, strode across the dock. He reached out his arm for a handshake and said, “Peter! Good to see ya! How’re your tomatoes doing?”
Peter’s face broke into a wide smile.
“Well by the god…a damn sight better’n yours, I’ll betcha,” he grinned.
When Dad lay dying, his sister – my Aunt Katie – came to the hospital.
“How’s your garden doing this year?” was his greeting.
That’s what they talked about, in the last hours of his life…the amount of rain, the chance of early frost, and that damned quack grass.
Today, working out in my garden, I kept a running conversation going with Dad, in my head.
He had opinions.
The pole beans I grow – because I like the look of them climbing the tepees – are not the wisest choice, according to Dad. Pole beans spend too much energy putting up their runners, rather than producing beans. On Beaver Island, where I’m fighting a short season anyway, bush beans would be a better guarantee of a good harvest.
As for the flowers, nonsense. If you can’t make a meal out of it, it’s a waste of good garden space.
In Dad’s opinion.
Remembering how bad his knees got, toward the end, my raised beds are not a bad idea.
If I keep jumping on that shovel to force it through the sod, I’ll have bad knees, too.
Dad sure had something to say about the man who promised he’d come back today to finish repairing the fence and clean up the mess he left. He had a few choice comments for me, too, for being foolish enough to pay him before the job was done.
Dad wasn’t very happy with my cousin, Bob, either, when he didn’t show up with the rototiller as he said he would.
I’m getting a pretty good rhubarb bed…the tomatoes are looking fine…that’s a nice little raspberry patch…and why the hell do I have fifty horseradish plants growing if I never use it?
All in all, it was a nice conversation.
I’m working in town on Father’s Day. That’s okay.
I spent this day in the garden with my Dad.