In the Garden with Dad



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.

25 responses »

  1. I simply love this, Cindy. I always talk to my dad when I’m out walking, remembering all the times we walked together. Enjoy your memories on Father’s Day.

  2. Wow! Cindy this is an excellent one again. Really full of love for a dad that was hard to please much like the way of my dad. This is a lovely tribute to your dad. I really liked this piece a lot.

    And I hope your garden produces a good crop of what ever you have planted. 🙂

  3. I’ll bet your dad enjoyed your day in the garden with him. It’s interesting how that subject warmed his heart and allowed him to communicate. Am now pondering his wisdom about pole beans and bush beans, now that we’ve just planted our pole beans. Must share this with Barry. Happy weekend, Cindy.

    • I love to watch the pole beans grow…have had some luck by pinching off new growth around the end of August, so all the energy will go into producing ripe beans with what is already there. I hope Dad enjoyed the day as much as I did! Thanks for reading, Kathy, and for your comments!

  4. This is such a beautifully written post–so perfect for a piece about garden loveliness and dads. Great metaphor, Cindy!

    Sara and I have finally moved into our house in Ecuador, and furniture arrived over the weekend. Now we have something to sit on! Maybe that means I can write, as well.


    • I’m so glad to hear you’re getting settled! I have spent an unreasonable amount of time worrying about both of you, so far away on this grand adventure! I’ll look forward to seeing your reports. Thank you for reading, and for your kind comments!

  5. Cindy:

    I am new to your blog. I sure am glad to have stumbled upon it. You are more than just a beautiful writer. Your writing has depth, meaning.

    I am sure your father is shining down from the heavens when he read your lovely thoughts and brilliant metaphors.

    I tried to find you on Twitter since I tweeted the link to this post.


    • Thank you, Kristal, for taking the time to say such kind things! I took a quick look at your blog (lovely children!!) and will have a better look around when I have a bit more time. You seem to have a great way with words, too! Thank you for reading, and for your comments!

      • Thank you, Cindy. Just soaking in al the precious moments with them. Thanks for stopping by my little blog. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    • Thank you! What a lovely post…it does sound like a grand conversation! Dads, anyway!
      Karen from SmallHouseBigGarden just wrote that her Dad’s dying words to her were not “I love you,” but “promise me you’ll take good care of the car.” Which I think MEANS “I love you” when you care enough to do the translation.
      I’ve started following your blog, and look forward to more of your good writing. Thank you!

  6. Fathers of that era were not the easiest to speak to but if they were good men (as mine was, and yours seemed to be) you knew you could rely on them when the going got rough.
    My father’s last lucid words in hospce weren’t “I love you” because outward emotive expressions weren’t his thing. Instead he said, “promise me you’ll take care of your car”…. I suspect that meant something
    deeper. 🙂

    Great post!

    Ps. I saw you visited Dena’s Florudahoma and I suspect you’ll get a visit from her if you haven’t already. I told her how much I loved “Details” and that she’d love it too!

    • Oh, this brought tears to my eyes! “Promise me you’ll take care of your car…” What a statement that makes, about that generation of Dads, or maybe all fathers who have a hard time expressing their feelings for their daughters, and about your father in particular, and his love for you. What a lovely memory! Thanks so much for sharing it!

  7. Nice story, Cindy. Very nice.
    Thank you for it.

    I also like your sketches – and your humility when you talk about doing better at them.

    Cynthia Reyes in Toronto (author of A Good Home)

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