My father was the gardener in our family. When people drove by our farm, they’d often see him in the garden wearing his trademark clothing, a faded long-sleeved blue work shirt, patched bib overalls, and a broad-brimmed straw hat on his head. If mosquitoes were bad, he thought nothing of draping one of my Mom’s sheer curtains over his head, a ghost wandering among the sweet corn and tomatoes.
Dad’s garden was a place of solitude. He could spend hours in the patch, hoeing weeds, picking beans, or crawling through the strawberry beds, gathering every sweet berry. His mind was never idle, and when I saw him in the garden, I knew without asking that he was reliving successful coon hunts and baseball games from the 1920s and 1930s or making plans to train his dogs. Yet, if someone stopped, he leaned on his hoe, ready to talk, often about baseball, coon hunting, and dogs. People often left with tomatoes, zucchini, green beans, corn, and berries.
Like my father, I enjoy the social aspect of gardening, the people who stop by to ask if my onions are ready to harvest, or if I have any tips on combating tomato blight. Sometimes casual visitors come by asking if they can have some of my produce. Like my Dad, I’m happy to share because I’ve planted too much.
This summer, as I weed my plot in the community garden, my thoughts turn to memories of Dad, who would be 105 tomorrow. In my broad-brimmed hat, I’m even looking a bit like him, although I wear shorts, not bib overalls. I wonder if he found weeding as satisfying as I do, especially after a rain. Never mind the sweat trickling down my face and back, I am at peace when I see the clear spaces between tidy rows. It must be our German ancestry.
I wonder if Dad’s mind roamed as many miles and years as mine does when I’m gardening, and if he jumped when someone spoke his name because he was so lost in thought. I don’t think about baseball games or coon hunts, but I do find myself wishing I had written down more of his stories, wishing I could have him back for a day, or at least an hour.
Dad may be gone, but whenever I’m in the garden, he never seems very far away.