This is my first Father’s Day without a father, so to honor him I decided to plant something that he planted in our yard when I was a kid. As I began to think about which plant to choose, I was astonished to realize that I could remember almost every plant in our yard and I even knew most of their names. We had a small yard — 1/4 of an acre, but my dad made the most of it. The back yard came with a big oak tree that rained acorns, and an even bigger hickory tree. When the hickory nuts fell from on high, we’d crack them open and dig out the nut meats and eat them on the spot.
My dad loved plants, and he added two peach trees and a pear tree, forsythia, burning bush, roses, hydrangea, foxglove, gladiola, iris, daffodil, black-eyed Susans, cockscomb, tiger lily, phlox, and more. He had a good-sized vegetable garden, and he made his own cold frame. We had a small utility room connected to the house, and one day he took me in there to show me his latest project. He had special lights strung up, and under those lights were dozens of little pots with tiny, little seedlings. I was in awe. It felt like something sacred was going on in there. He told me that these baby plants were very fragile and we had to be careful with them. I’m pretty sure he told me that I had to be quiet around them. (He tried to sneak in the necessity of being quiet at every opportunity.)
I love plants and birds, and for some strange reason it is just now dawning on me at age 50 that this is something I shared with my dad. This is something that came from him. As children, our world revolves around ourselves and how everything feels to us. It’s so easy to take our parents for granted. I often thought of my dad as being kind of in the background of my life. My mom and sister and I did most of the talking, and he would usually be sitting in his favorite chair in the living room reading a book. Every now and then he’d holler out a funny wisecrack to let us know that he was paying attention.
On one of my dad’s last nights, my sister and her husband and I were sitting at his side while my mom rested. Karen was reminiscing about how he made Christmas so special. So many twinkling lights, icicles just so, cookies and milk for Santa … the whole bit. Then she asked me to tell a story about dad. It was so interesting — the times when he was angry with me or hurt my feelings were right there on the surface. Those memories were so easy to retrieve, and I felt guilty for thinking of such things at that time. With children, a hurtful word can be more indelible than a kind word. But then a good memory floated to the surface — a funny little story. My dad was really funny. And more and more funny little stories came up between us, and we stayed up all night long, laughing and telling my dad our memories. He couldn’t talk to us, but we are sure he could hear us and feel the love.
The plant that I chose to honor my father is foxglove. He planted them in a grouping with other flowers in our front yard. I was fascinated with the clusters of bell-shaped flowers, and I loved the name — just the sound of it seemed magical. Hmmm. That’s probably the greatest gift that my father gave to me: the ability to see magic. He told magical stories and went all out to make holidays and camping trips special. He showed me magic in nature: calling us to come outside to watch a nest of baby birds taking their first flight … watching the smallest seedlings turn into plants that we would eat for dinner … turning a bunch of weeds into dandelion wine. He was a spiritual seeker and saw magic in that. In my darkest days, I had the ability to look out and see magic in the situation. He planted all of those seeds when I was a child, and even now they are still blooming.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad!