There's absolutely nothing better than a red ripe tomato from the vine or a bowl of home grown green beans from your own garden. The freshness and flavor of veggies from your own backyard will always leave something to be desired ,when in the absence of such freshness one must take their pick from what's available at the local supermarket. I've snapped many a bean in my time and complained about it sometimes as a child, but you'd never find me complaining about the bounty at our dinner table, unless my daddy was trying to force those muscadines on me that he grew on a vine near the fence. While I love them now, they were my least favorite of daddy's green thumb
Daddy's garden has been a labor of love for so many, many years. I'm sure we were quite oblivious to the back breaking work it takes to till, plant, water and keep the weeds at bay. Especially after slapping wet cement between brick after brick laying foundations for hundreds of homes at your day job. I'm doubly sure we have taken him for granted more times than we can count. My sister and I, are quite the fortunate ones, who as adults, have continued to be the recipients of the bounty with thankful hearts but perhaps not enough words of thanks and recognition for what he has done. Until recently, I couldn't have spoken with any knowledge of how much work goes into gardening. With the effects of cancer sapping daddy's energy, we've been trying to pitch in, even though it's obvious we have up to this time been spectators, not participants, in the gardening arena.
All kinds of thoughts came to me as I joined my daddy in the garden today. As I started down one bean row and he the other, I repeatedly stood to stretch my sixty year old back. Picking beans is back intensive work. Over in the next row, I'd catch a glimpse of him slowly straighten himself and rest, hands on his hips. Then he'd make his way to his lawn chair to sit a spell. As I paused to observe him, his body weakened by cancer, I heard a whisper in my heart. You could learn something by observing him today. Take note. Observe your father today. There are lessons you could learn.
After awhile, when I began to notice the sun growing warm on my back, he invited me to go inside for a break, but I'd already forgotten the whisper until I heard it again.
“Sometimes you push yourself too hard, to finish a task, when a break would bring refreshment and energy to finish the task at hand. Rest is good. Realize your limitations and take a time out. ”
My father is a man of few words, not prone to begging and pleading. After a time, I realized he'd gone to the house for a break without me. When my thirst got the best of me, I followed. There he was, eating his noon meal, right on time.
“ You don't pay attention to your body and treat it with disrespect, when scheduled meals and times for sleep would benefit you more.”
After a pack of crackers (which by the way became my lunch until 3pm), I returned to the garden, as he found his way to his favorite chair in the sun. Rounding the gate and grabbing a shovel, I announced I'd get rid of the weeds around the cucumbers. He suggested the hoe would work better. There it was again, the whisper..
“It's best to get your information from someone who knows best how to do something, not just trusting your own instincts. He's been doing this for years. ”
I grabbed the hoe and began tackling some really stubborn weeds near the cukes, working up quite a sweat. About ten minutes into it, I looked over my shoulder to discover my daddy quietly peering over the gate in my direction, with a concerned look on his face. I'm sure he wasn't perfectly confident someone who was going to use a shovel for the task knew exactly what they were doing. I chuckled to myself. After all, as a child I had pulled up a whole row of beans when I was “Helping.”
“Remember, he's had your back for a long time as a dad. You have had the benefit of a father who cared enough to stick with you, even when you made mistakes and weren't so lovable.”
I returned the shovel and hoe to their proper places and found my way to the screened porch where he was now rocking. By this time, I was fully aware of the energy and time he has put into the lives of those he loves, those still here and those who've gone on ahead of us. Three bags of beans, a handful of squash and two cucumbers picked today and four feet of weeds removed and I'm about done for the day. How did he ever do this day after day?
Rocking quietly side by side, I began to share with him how my friend David climbed some tall trees recently and cut the tops out. “He's a hard worker and not afraid to try anything,” I said, to which my daddy replied, “I used to be like that, climbing and all, but I can't do it anymore.” The look on his face said it all. “That must be really hard for you daddy,” I replied. He said nothing more.
The whisper came again....
“There comes a day when bodies wear out and more than ever a person needs to know you love them, not only for what they have done for you, but for the kind of person they are and have been. Earthly fathers don't always get it perfectly right. Sometimes they don't stop to rest or keep the best schedule. Sometimes they don't make the best choices or make the most informed decisions. But, the best of them have your back in the good times and the bad. They do the hard things that faithful dads do, and watch over you faithfully until you can find your own way. It's a thankless job. So many take it for granted. Sometimes it's not until they find out for themselves just how difficult it is, bending over their own baby's crib, a row of green beans or the sick bed of the one whose body has worn out and no longer has the strength to climb the mountains they thought they had to climb for their children.”
My daddy's probably not going to climb many more mountains in this life. He may not even push that plow many more times through the rich soil he's tended for so many years. But today, I learned a valuable lesson. It's never too late to learn from your daddy.
As I picked up my large bag of fresh green beans, he said to me with a grin, “Come back and have some fun again some time.” I hope I'll get to return to that porch many more times. Hopefully, I'll find the words to express how tall he is in my eyes and even share how much I'm learning about the sacrifices he's made as I help him in the garden. I need to recognize my limitations and realize it's not so much what I do in life but how faithful I am to the ones who love me. And as I recognize my own limitations as a human being, I could strive to be more aware of caring for my body and perhaps find a sense of humor like my daddy still has in his not so perfect body and not so perfect circumstances.
I was remembering that one day recently my daddy said, “I don't talk much. I listen. You learn more that way.” What wisdom!
Today, I've been all ears. There's lots of time to think in the garden. My final thought centered on the surrendering my father had to do to allow me to do what he's always done himself. I can only imagine his inner struggle of watching from the lawn chair on the side of the garden. Perhaps the most important thought I had today was “when we are the weakest and facing our human frailty, perhaps we have the best opportunity to influence others. As children, we obviously need to see our fathers as human beings, capable of making mistakes, but people whose wisdom runs deeper than ours simply because they've laid more foundations, picked more beans, buried more friends and family and faced their frailty more times than we have. If the ears on those cornstalks could have heard my thoughts today, they would have recognized my heart was filled with gratitude for one amazing daddy who's still teaching me how to listen and learn about life.