My husband loves to work out in the yard. But between kids, school, military duty, more kids, and more military duty, the poor garden has become a dumping ground for rocks and deflated balls. The apple trees desperately need to be sprayed and the grapes and berries cry out to be pruned. Still, when he has the time, he heads out back to putter around, often followed by little helpers. He’s so patient with them—helping them fill the watering can from the rain barrel, showing them how to spread mulch, giving them simple jobs they can do on their own. I love to watch them. It’s the essence of the father-child relationship, as he teaches them how to nurture and nourish and grow, life lessons they’ll always have. The first time he took the children out to the garden will always remain one of our most treasured family memories.
It was May Day, the true first day of Spring. Not the one in March; March is still too cold. May marks the beginning of new life. Bulbs planted in autumn, seeds planted just after the first frost, gardens that have lain fallow for the past six months–all promise to sprout little green shoots of vegetation with the help of April showers. It was a gorgeous day, the kind you find painted on a canvas in cerulean and golden hues, and my husband was determined not to waste it. He coaxed me outside to help, delegating the plot under the front windows as mine, while he worked on our vegetable garden. I don’t have a gardener’s soul, and I tried (unsuccessfully) to convince him to let me plant plastic flowers that I could simply hose off. At least I couldn’t kill those.
Our two “farmhands” scampered outside to join us. Larisa was eager to help, using her own gardening gloves and tools. She ran from my garden in front, where she was digging holes for marigolds, to the backyard, where her daddy tilled the garden. Her little brother showed quite a predilection for spreading top soil. Beckett thrust his dimpled hands into the bag, pulling out fistfuls of rich, dark dirt. He watched as I carefully placed the dirt around the new plants, and then mimicked my actions, meticulously fertilizing the toy pinwheel stuck in the ground.
I was spreading the last of the soil when Larisa called for me. “Come see the worm!” Out back, I found the kids peering intently at the grass, but saw no worms. Larisa is frantic. “Oh no! It’s gone!” Larisa began crying, while Beckett’s lip quivered in empathy. Daddy was still tilling, but at her cries, he stopped to pick up a mound of dirt. “Here,” he said, handing over the wormy dirt to her. She reached out to pluck a worm from it, letting its slimy body writhe in her palm as she carried it to Beckett. She placed it in his outstretched hand, but he immediately dropped it. It slithered at his feet, while he stood there transfixed. He was—and still is—both fascinated and repulsed by the creature. It quickly escaped beneath some rocks. “I think he’s going to poop,” Larisa announced. (Three-year-old’s are always preoccupied with the bodily functions of every creature. The “Even Dinosaurs Pooped” cartoon on PBS that morning was a testament to that!) I almost told her that soil is actually worm poop, but decided it’s better to keep that nugget of knowledge to myself a little longer.
Once the garden was tilled, Lyle began sowing the seeds. The children followed beside him like little crabs as he moved up the row. Larisa wanted to plant the “pineapple” seeds, and no amount of explaining could convince her those were cucumbers. Beckett moved around the perimeter, stooping low to inspect the ground (and his sister’s work). I sat on the back steps watching the three people I loved most fuss over this little dirt patch, wondering if Lyle knows that he is doing more than planting vegetables. Perhaps they’re too young to remember this specific day, but this memory been sown deep in their souls. Some day, they’ll be planting a garden with their own children, and they’ll suddenly, inexplicably, think of their father. And the seeds they planted together will come in full bloom.