“Memories grow more precious still when loved ones have to part, and remain forever blooming in the gardens of the heart.” — Author unknown
My dad was part of that tough and stoic Depression-era generation of men who struggled to raise large families on small incomes. Like so many men of that era, I never once heard Dad complain. I’m certain, however, that he spent many sleepless nights worrying about how to pay the bills and how to feed six hungry kids. During the height of the Depression, Dad worked two low-paying manual-labor jobs. And he was grateful for the work. Dad had two stress relievers: fishing and gardening, both of which put a little extra food on the table and took his mind off the harsh realities of the time.
It was through my dad that I learned to garden under a hot Louisiana sun. We spent hours together picking buckets of okra and pulling taters from the ground. Regrettably, I can’t say that I always helped in the garden without complaining. When Dad heard all the whining he could stand, he would stop whatever he was doing and just stare at me with a pained expression. The disappointing look on his deeply lined and weather-beaten face said all that needed to be said. My grumbling stopped.
I have to share this memory. When I was a skinny high school freshman, I returned from school to find Dad struggling to push an old-fashioned hand plow through heavy clay garden soil. He was drenched with sweat and looked awful. Honestly, I was worried that this gentle giant, who had absolutely no quit in him, was about to collapse under the oppressive heat and humidity.
“Dad,” I said. “I have an idea. What if we tied one end of a rope to the plow and the other end around my waist? That way, I could pull and you could push.” I fully expected (hoped really) that Dad would decline my offer. He didn’t, however. “There’s a rope in the barn,” he said.
During that time in the Deep South, one typically would have seen an old mule or broken-down old horse attached to the working end of a plow rope. Unfortunately, we owned neither a mule nor horse. On that memorable day, I became the mule, albeit a pint-sized two-legged one. My time spent hitched to a plow rope produced in me a whole new appreciation for plow mules. Despite pulling and straining with all the force I could muster, I managed to move the plow only a few inches with each tug of the rope. With salty sweat now pouring off my face, I turned to face Dad. “Are you really pushing?” I asked. “Yep,” he replied. “Are you really pulling?”
Years later, he confessed that, in fact, he wasn’t pushing. The ornery side of him wanted to see how long his yearling son would last before crying “uncle.” As it turned out, not very long.
After much huffing and puffing, I finally managed to pull the plow to the end of a long row. I was completely spent! My legs felt like rubber. I could hardly breathe. “Dad,” I gasped. “I have homework to do.”
His response was classic. With a knowing smile, he said, “Go do your schoolwork, son. I’ll do the plowing.” I quickly untied the rope from around my waist and beat a hasty retreat to the house.
This Father’s Day, as I barbecue and pitch horseshoes with my kids and grandkids, I’ll also retreat to that special memory garden in my heart where thoughts of Dad still make me laugh and cry.
Thank God for memories and for dads!
Barry Fugatt is director of horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden in Woodward Park. He may be reached at 918-576-5152 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org