Tag Archives: role models

Gardening Story

Sticks and Stones

When my parents moved into their “retirement” house in Oshkosh, the builder didn’t do a very good job on the landscaping.  Contractors weren’t supposed to plant anything, but top soil was to have been spread, making the growing of a lawn possible.

Instead, the soil was mostly poor, and there were lots of stones – big-ish and small.  Some people would have ordered a load of top soil, but not my dad.

Rather than take the easier route, he sectioned off the yard and, bit by bit and day by day, he sorted through the soil, putting the clay on the creek side (it was a little creek that didn’t always have water in it) and setting aside the stones and rocks for future projects.

You would see him out there on his hands and knees, digging with a hand trowel, picking through the dirt, and eventually planting grass seed in small sections, and watering it every other day.  I don’t want to guess how many hours he put into that lawn, but before it was all planted in grass, many dozens of hours had gone by.

He was someone who took the long view of things.  His main hobby was planting trees on two different properties my parents owned.  Not for Christmas trees, but for lumber a generation or two after he was gone.

I can’t claim to have that kind of vision, but, well, I have developed a mild fascination with improving soil, removing stones from it, and finding another use for them.  And, after our yard got kind-of torn up last summer, I’ll have plenty of opportunity to become one with the earth, so to speak.

It’s funny, but I had been writing this column for ten or more years before it hit me that my writing paralleled the monthly newsletter my dad wrote and distributed to a few hundred subscribers for many years.  Now the sifting through soil parallel has come to light.  I’m sure there are other qualities and predilections that I inherited from my father – both good and bad.  From my Mother too.

What worries me is that someday my daughters will start taking on some of my qualities, like questionable humor (not inappropriate; just questionable as to whether it is funny).

By the time my dad passed away the yard looked really nice.  The grass and trees were green and growing, and the flowers my mom tended provided some nice, colorful accents.

I guess we all have some kind of impact on the world around us, be it our yards, our homes, our communities, and especially our children.  Sometimes the things and people we should spend the most time on don’t get enough attention, while unimportant things with little screens control our days.

Anyway, I look forward to a summer and fall of yard work, and of thinking about my dad from time to time as I hear my knees creak and snap when I struggle to stand up with a bucket full of sticks and stones.

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Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years and two weeks ago, December 15th, my father died.  No matter how many times I look at that sentence, it still doesn’t seem possible.  I wouldn’t say it seems like just yesterday, but it’s hard to believe it has been 20 years.  I don’t feel 20 years older.

On December 11th he was in good health, but by the 15th he was gone.  It didn’t seem real then, and I guess it still doesn’t. 

I have been thinking, since that anniversary, about how much I learned from my dad when he was around, but even more, what I’ve learned since his passing.

Back then, I was the father of two little kids.  Now my kids are grown, and I can appreciate how much he enjoyed visits from his grown-up children, and to see how the empty vessels they once were had grown into good, interesting people.  I also now have an understanding of how gratifying it was for him to see his children’s children growing into their own personalities. 

I hadn’t really thought of him as a role model back 20 years ago, but as I have aged, and as my place in life has evolved, I realize what a strong, solid person he was.  When someone compliments me on stepping up to do what’s needed, they are really complimenting him, since he made doing so the only option.  He never talked about it, but he lived it.

My dad always had lots of pursuits outside of his “day job.”  One of them was a quarterly newsletter he put out called, not coincidentally, “Pursuit.”  In the days before personal computers and the Internet, he used a mimeograph machine to print out hundreds of copies, and mailed them to subscribers around the country.  Now, here I am with a weekly newspaper column and a blog.  I never even made the connection between his Pursuit and my pursuits until a year ago.

Perhaps the biggest influence he had on me – another one that I didn’t really attribute to him until fairly recently – was the absolute respect he showed my mother.  I am hopeful that the role modeling he did for me will continue on, and that my daughters demand that same level of respect and loyalty. 

Twenty years is a long time.  The pain of losing my dad has subsided, and it has been replaced by a wistfulness, for the lack of a better word.  I wonder what he would have thought of me as I matured, and I feel bad that he didn’t get to know our children as adults.  I think – no – I know he would be very proud, and very impressed.

With both parents gone now, I do feel a sense of emptiness, and a sense of regret for not having called as often as I should, or being as understanding and accepting of my parents’ foibles as I should have.  But, that’s another lesson they gifted me with, I guess.

Christmas is always a time for memories of those who aren’t with us anymore.  My wish for you is that you join me in appreciating the things in us that came from those loved ones.  They are still here.  They are in us, just as, years from now, we will be present in the people we have influenced.

A person could make the connection between the Christmas story, and the Easter story, and how we live on through others.  But, I’m no theologian, so I’ll just leave it at this: Thanks Dad.

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