For the second summer, Cathy and I are renting space in a community garden. We have a 4-foot by 12-foot raised bed. We’ve enjoyed our spring plantings of lettuce, spinach, and radishes, and now we’re watching the summer crops take hold: peppers, tomatoes, purple hull peas, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, and okra. I’ve never grown okra, but like my father, I’m up for trying anything when it comes to the garden. My father grew cantaloupes, watermelons, strawberries, raspberries, cauliflower, broccoli, and just about any vegetable you can think to name. He took great pride in his garden, and, when I was a teenager, he demanded I work in it. I ran the rototiller, I hilled potatoes, I hoed weeds, and all the while I resented the fact that I had to spend my summer hours doing such work. Now, of course, I wish he were alive so we could work in the garden together. We know so little when we’re young. We think, for instance, we have all the time in the world when the truth is the sand keeps running through the hourglass at a rate we can’t begin to imagine. How quickly we find ourselves looking back at the people we’ve had to say goodbye to, including our younger selves. From our perspective now, we see how foolish, how self-centered, how unaware we really were.
It’s long been my tradition on Father’s Day to post this poem by Robert Hayden:
Those Winter Sundays
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?
What stories can we tell about those who are gone, perhaps those whom we never appreciated? What detailed facts can we offer from memory? The blueback cold, the cracked hands, the banked fires, the good shoes polished and waiting. What details would you offer to represent your relationship, no matter how complicated, with a loved one? Where would those details lead you? What do you know now that you didn’t know then?