Posted by: ktzefr | June 18, 2016

On Father’s Day: Dreams and Other Things

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In the spring of 1976 my dad was diagnosed with heart failure.  When he asked the doctor about the prognosis, he said this: “a year is a long time.”  A year for Dad turned out to be only a few weeks.

When I talked with my dad that spring his one big sadness, other than the obvious illness, was that he couldn’t plant his garden.  It was May, time to plant corn and potatoes and beans.  He and Mom had planted a garden every spring since they were kids.  It was hard work.  He used a wooden push plow to do the final tilling of the soil by hand, but he was proud of the rewards — dozens of tomatoes, rows of potatoes, and a field of corn.

Twice my mom and dad came together to visit us in the city in the years prior and had ridden up to DC with friends.  They filled the trunk of the car with tomatoes and onions and beans and squash.  The vegetables were better than anything I could buy at the store. 

The year he became ill I was relieved that he wasn’t going to be out in the sun doing such strenuous work.  Everyone told him to take it easy.  Rest.  Don’t exert himself.  He didn’t need a garden.

I didn’t realize at the time what a great loss this was for him.  Of course, he didn’t need to plant a garden since he and mom could buy fresh vegetables from the neighbors.  But he had a great emotional need to work the soil.  Since that time I have heard other people speak often of some profound sadness they felt about no longer being able to do something they enjoyed.  These very real losses, caused by age or illness, are hard to accept.

When I was growing up my dad liked to fish and hunt and play checkers.  He enjoyed game shows and wrestling and westerns on television.  He read the newspaper every day, poetry on occasion, and the encyclopedia in winter when there was not much business at the store where he and mom spent 10 to 12 hours a day.  When fresh oysters were available, he made oyster stew.  Occasionally, he made doughnuts.  He’d once worked in a bakery.  Every November, when the hogs were slaughtered, he supervised the sausage making, doing the seasoning himself.  As a young man, he had also worked for a time in a butcher shop in the city.

I sometimes went with my dad to deliver groceries to people who didn’t live in walking distance and didn’t have a car.  I remember an old woman named Phoebe who lived with her middle-aged “girl” and “boy” in a tiny house in a hollow.  As a child, I was amazed by all the pictures she had tacked to her walls — clippings from glossy magazines of faraway places and advertisements.  We always had to stay in the truck until her “boy” locked the dogs in the cellar.  And on Christmas Eve every year, after closing the store, my dad delivered and gave away the last cakes and pies that had not sold to his customers.    Sometimes he let me drive the truck.  My legs were not long enough to reach the pedals, so I turned the steering wheel and he worked the gas and brakes. 

He told me I could do anything I wanted to do.  The only caveat was to stay in school!  It never occurred to me then to ask if he was living his dream.  Later, I learned that he had wanted to continue his education but had to drop out of high school to help support his family.  I imagine there were many things he would liked to have done, but I don’t recall him ever complaining about missing anything. 

Lately, on a number of occasions, I’ve heard people say that parents do their kids a disservice by telling them they can do anything they want to do or be anything they want to be.  But I can only vouch for my own experience to rebut this sentiment.  I am eternally grateful that my childhood, with its ups and downs, good moments and sad ones, challenges and opportunities was also marked by encouragement and continual boosts to my self esteem.

My dad believed that dreams really could come true.

So do I.

*****

Happy Father’s Day!!!

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Responses

  1. So touching & beautiful! Yet again, a poignant & meaningful writing in your blog & I know that your parents looking down from above appreciate your appreciation of them. Rose

    • Thank you, Rose!

  2. Beautiful and rich account of your life as a child, perhaps millennials can learn from your childhood experiences.


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