Tag Archives: Dad

Dad

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dad

I love this photo of my father.

Christmas Day, Dad with his red suspenders, wearing his brand new red plaid flannel shirt, reading glasses in his pocket, that shock of coarse, thick hair, just about to speak.

Being one of the oldest of his children, the second of eleven, I have other memories of him, too.

I remember my Dad when he was young, gangly and a little bit shy, with a wide grin and a big joy in life.

I remember when Dad would never leave the house without giving my mother a big kiss good-bye…when he’d come home tipsy and try to charm and tease the scowl from her face…when they’d snuggle together on the couch while watching the news.

As a young man, Dad was lanky and strong with a quick stride that we struggled to keep up with. He had long arms hanging from broad shoulders. In motion, he seemed all elbows, wrists and big hands.

He’d chuck us under the chin, or use his knuckles to rub the top of our head, or grab our knees to make us squeal.

He’d reach out – quick as a striking snake – to cuff the ear of a child whispering in church.

He’d scoop up a small child to place her on a shoulder as he set out walking.

Or throw one over his shoulder “like a sack of potatoes.”

Or grab one to hold up by the feet, to “shake the dickens out of you.”

He’d carry a little one in the crook of his arm.

Sometimes he’d just reach down to offer a hand to hold as we crossed the street.

With such a large family, it seemed like he’d always have a little one to tease and fuss over.

Dad was always quite surprised at our “growing up.”

We did, though.

Children gave way to grandchildren, who also remember the tickling and other tortures he’d administer, when he caught them…and then great-grandchildren.

Christmas, when all the family gathered, was extra special for Dad.

For years – maybe twenty – he’d say, “this could likely be my last Christmas, you should come.” If we had other plans, or if traveling home was not in the budget, we’d rearrange, in order to be there. If a few of us were not getting along at the time, we’d put our disagreements aside for the sake of a good holiday. Dad would usually indulge in too much food and drink, which would make Mom angry, and add another layer of tension to the day.

Still, he would greet us all warmly, beam at the little ones, twinkle at our conversations, allow the toddlers to open his presents for him and bask in the pleasure of his big family around him.

That’s why I like this photo.

Today is my Dad’s birthday.

Though he’s been gone from this life for years, his influence is still a big part of my life, and I think of him often.

Happy Birthday, Dad!

In the Garden with Dad

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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.

Another Spring

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The seagulls moved inland the year Bill Wagner planted corn on my Grandpa’s island farm.

They left the harbor where their gliding watch decorated the landscape and dirtied the docks. They abandoned, temporarily, the fishing boats where they lazily waited to claim the discarded remains of each day’s catch.

For the novel taste of earthworms and slugs, they came inland to follow the slow, gray tractor as it muddled over and plodded through the tough, overgrown fields, left fallow for thirty years.

My Dad noticed them first. “Get my gun,” he shouted to my daughters, “here’s dinner!” They remembered his similar suggestions at holidays, that Santa’s reindeer might make a good venison stew, or that the Easter Bunny might be good to eat. They knew he was teasing. Still, both responded with the squeals, looks of horror and groans he expected, and that made him grin.

Seeming more like one large, feathery organism than several hundred birds, the seagulls followed the tractor closely. Seagulls hovered overhead, flapped alongside and marched behind, like white rag ribbons bouncing along with the humming machine.

Bill led the parade daily, tilting over the broken soil with the birds, like bouquets of kite tails, in close attendance. They gave him the comic appearance of a balloon man.

The seagulls stayed when Bill went home at night, keeping watch over the tractor and the plow.

Impatient to get started each morning, the birds were already fluttering busily, vying for position, as the farmer made his early trek across the field to begin his work day.

Dragging the plow behind, the tractor slowly transformed the field. The first pass lifted the earth in clumps, pulled out the juniper, tossed up a few rocks. The second time over, the lurching machine turned the brittle grass under, exposed the roots and left a finer texture. With the disc attached the tractor made waves in the freshly turned, dark earth. Fertilizer next, then the planter left crooked rows of yellow kernels as the small machine moved grudgingly over the stony field. Another swipe covered the seeds, and a deposit of weed killer completed the job.

The work took nine days from start to finish.

Bill plowed one long day in the rain, and allowed the rain to keep him home the next.

The seagulls had perfect attendance.

We watched the progress from the house and yard.

Aunt Katie drank her morning coffee on the kitchen porch, to enjoy the smell of freshly plowed soil with the morning sun. After dinner she and Dad took their beers outside. Leaning back in their lawn chairs, they followed the tractor’s path with their eyes as their voices and laughter filled the evenings with sound.

My daughters protested the change.

“Nothing’s going to be the same!” they told me day after day.

“Now he’s ruined our fort!”

“There goes the rock pile!”

“That was my favorite little tree!”

Every report was a sad one.

Each pronouncement, they thought, was the one that would finally raise me up and drive me out of the house, to throw myself in front of the tractor, if necessary, to stop Bill’s wild destruction.

I understood their feelings.

I remembered, too.

In my own childhood, we made paths, piled stones, made forts and “hide-outs” in the tall grass. We found wildflowers and berries and caught fireflies as we roamed the fields morning and evening.

“Wait,” I told my young daughters, “you’ll have great fun playing in the tall corn.”

“Watch the birds,” I said, “They’re so funny!”

“Watch your Grandpa,” I told them.

That’s what I was doing.

Every day Dad walked the field.

His long stride covered the rough ground easily. He seemed to be measuring with his steady pace.

He moved quickly, as if he had a specific destination, then stopped suddenly, and without plan, to study the changes around him.

Feet planted firmly in the soil, his legs formed a triangle with the ground. His broad shoulders rounded,  back swayed and arms akimbo with thumbs hooked into his belt loops, hands resting on his hips.

He would stand for so long, surveying the daily progress, that his solid form could have looked like a statue.

Except for his head, nodding his grinning approval at everything he saw.

Now, that field has been planted nearly every year for more than twenty five years.

My cousin, Bob, has it planted this year with alfalfa and kale, in anticipation of pasturing his lambs there.

Aunt Katie still lives in Grandpa’s farmhouse there, as she has since she retired. Though she’s older and more frail, she still enjoys having a beer outside in the evening, to watch the activity on the farm.

Bill Wagner died many years ago; he’s still remembered and respected as a good man and a hard worker.

My daughters are long grown and gone from home, with children that wander the fields when they come here.

My Dad, so hard to believe, passed away close to fifteen years ago.

Many things have changed, with the passage of time, but the memories flutter, like those long ago seagulls, so close and so vividly that I can almost hear the laughter.