He didn't hear us until we opened the screen door, letting it clap behind us. A smile spread across his face as we pulled up two rockers and joined him in the corner of the long screened porch. A balmy breeze had been blowing all day. I felt the cool of it on the back of my neck as the afternoon sun made its slow descent.
Once a garden graced the area just behind this porch and I felt myself being carried along on the breeze to memories of tasting sun ripened strawberries and pulling up pungent green onions, which his rough, labor toughened hands had so often plopped on the counter top by the back door. This garden had later moved to an adjacent lot and a "playhouse" for my siblings and I now separates the garden from the one I knew as a child. Had it really been almost five decades since my sister and I were toting our life sized baby dolls from that cement block building he'd built with his own hands?
He seems to be more verbose when other men are around. I wondered what the secret could be to drawing him out of that quietness he seems to have settled into these days.
Taking advantage of his obvious pleasure with some man to man talk, I took a stroll around the perimeter of the house and found myself pulling a few weeds from around the brick fence. The trowel he used for bricklaying is lying on top of the trash can and a bucket of concrete creatively turned into a foot stool grace the front door of the block building, where the paint is peeling off like an old sunburn.
After he polishes off the piece of apple pie we've brought along for his dessert, we coax him into the garden with a few requests to see "what's growing down there." He's moving so slowly these days, getting winded and making frequent stops to get his bearings, but a spark seems to ignite when he plants his Sunday sock feet in the soil. Somehow I feel I need to soak up the sound of his voice like the cornstalks growing alongside us. "I didn't get a good stand of potatos this year," he says with obvious disappointment. It hasn't been a good year for gardens... too wet, then too dry. I look down to see the familiar sight, my daddy standing on the familiar soil in his sock feet. "They're not calling for any rain," he announces. I sense his frustration.
It's not just the frustration with the weather I sense as I think of all the years of bounty coming through those brick laying, seed sowing hands. He's started pushing a plow at the age of 7 and never has there been a year when he wasn't seen behind the hum of a tiller. Until now
The cancer has zapped his strength and much like the lackluster leaves of a garden wanting a rainshower, his body longs for the rest and refreshment it deserves after years of laboring in love for our family.
As we exit the garden, I stand looking out over the perimeter filled with life and the fruit of his labor, I marvel at the magnitude of what he's accomplished even as he has battled breast cancer.
As we moved to the chairs to allow him to rest, we spotted a giant blimp moving clumsily over the neighborhood, headed into the sunset. He quietly shared stories of his work with blimps in the Navy some 70 years ago, something I was hearing for the first time. As the giant balloon disappeared from view, I wondered if there were other mysteries about him, lying beneath the surface like seeds not yet sprouted.
I feel a reluctance to leave these days. The greatest unknown for us is the number of his days.Thoughts of life without him, and a piece of land no longer touched by his Sunday sock feet are difficult to face. While my heart doesn't want to accept an end to all I hold familiar and dear, I know there is an essence about someone you love that seems to permeate the things they've touched and the way they've lived their lives. As long as there is soil, sun, sky and rain, there will be reminders of his hands carrying in the bounty from the dirt by the cement building. And every time a bean seed splits the ground open, I can be reminded of a father who brought life out of the earth for our family. I'm not sure of how or when it will all come to an end for him here on this earth, but of one thing I am sure. I have some rich ground on which to plant my Sunday sock feet.
|Not his Sunday socks in the garden like yesterday but you get the picture!|