My dad would have been 85 years old today. He was a great guy and a great father, and he loved our yard. Whenever he was hospitalized that last summer, he’d say, “Can’t you just take me over to Kris and Fred’s so I can sit on their deck?” In honor of Dad, I’d like to share a piece I wrote about him several years ago in October:
Every fall, I have the same feelings of focused diligence mixed with anguished regret. Every pot I dump, I think of the weeds that never got pulled. Every flower box I take from the front deck, I notice another hole in the planking and wonder when, oh when we’ll be able to replace the whole thing.
I marvel at the few, bright Sonic Red New Guinea impatiens that refuse to die, the Lemon Zest petunias that come back from the dead only to have me bury them alive in the compost heap over the fence. I think about their brilliance and their beauty in the midst of the death and decay that is just around the corner along with 30 below wind chill and 20 foot snow drifts.
I fight the impulse to get down into the dirt and pull those damn dandelions that will not die, not now, not ever. I could expend the energy to pull them, but why? They will be the first ones back in the garden next spring, whether I pull them now or not, happy and strong and ready to propagate. I did pull up the thorny leaves of a nasty thistle this morning, a plant that had been taunting me for weeks. I thought as I yanked at the leaves, “Now is the time, you bastard…DIE!”, but in my haste and fury, I left the root in the ground because I just don’t have the energy today to totally fight a battle I’ll never win.
Today is October 25th, late in the season for Minnesotans to be raking and putting up storm windows. Most years, we have all that winter prep done weeks before now. But this year, it’s just been a little too warm and mild, and the acorns never did drop.
So I’m thinking, based on Farmer’s Almanac supposition, maybe winter won’t be so early or so bad. So far, our luck is holding.
Throughout the day, working in my garden, preparing it for the cold, I’m thinking about my dad. October 25th is my parents’ wedding anniversary. It is also the day, 4 years ago, that my dad slipped and fell and went into the hospital for the last time only to come home to die 3 weeks later. October 25, 2004 was the beginning of the end of my dad’s life. And I miss him today especially.
For the past 4 years, I’ve thought of my dad almost daily, but my memories of Dad during the fall are particularly vivid and poignant. Dad was one of the most friendly, outgoing guys you’d ever meet. He made friends easily and everywhere he went. He was the master of chit chat. Rarely deep or provocative, but always entertaining and memorable, Dad knew a little about a lot and had a joke for every occasion. Despite those raunchy jokes and a fondness for profanity, he was a man of deep faith. He prayed, he taught us, his five children, to pray, and more than anything, he taught us to believe.
Dad’s life was not easy. He was an under-educated over-achiever. He accomplished incredible success with little education or support from his parents. He was self-effacing and confident enough to admit what he didn’t know, and eager to learn, even in his latest years. He faced tough economic times and failed at times in business. But every day, he woke up and told himself, “Today will be a better day.” And most often it was.
People are talking a lot about hope these days. I would love for them to have known my dad. He was the epitome of hope. I don’t think the words “I give up” ever passed his lips.
Perhaps it was because Dad’s birth and death are both in the fall that keep him top of mind every autumn. Or it could be because the best conversation I ever had with my dad was during that last stay in the hospital. It was just him and me. The elections were right around the corner. The debates were hot and heavy. And Dad and I had a great time discussing it all.
Or it could be because the beautiful fall leaves remind me of that September around his last birthday. Fred and I had stopped for coffee and a visit, and Dad greeted us from his chair with a contented look on his face. Other visits, he secretly shared with my husband that he just didn’t understand why God was letting him wake up every morning. But that day, he seemed lost in thought as he gazed out the glass doors to their patio and seemed to only be half listening to our conversation.
When my mom and I got up to refill the coffee cups, Dad turned to Fred and said, “I just feel so awful, and I’m ready to go. I ask myself every day why doesn’t God just take me.” And then, he looked out the glass doors again at the deep orange leaves on the tree that grew right next to the patio. “Have you ever seen anything more beautiful than that tree, Fred?” he asked wistfully. “I think God wants me alive today just so that I could see that tree.”
Stop to appreciate the beauty of nature today. I know I will, and will be remembering dear old Dad.