Background Switcher (Hidden)


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

April 10 was the twelfth anniversary of my father's death. In a sense, I take every April 10 off, even though I'm working like a dog all day long. I do things that remind me of Dad, that honor his memory, still so bright in my mind. I do things that he would enjoy doing. I give the lawn the first mow of the year. The smell of exhaust and cut grass and runover wild onions reminds me of him. I plant tomato and flower seeds. And I think of what we'd be talking about and hear his voice in my head.
This April 10, I invited my beyond-adorable almost-six-year-old nephew Jake out to help me dig the bonsais out of their winter coldframe, trim their roots, and repot them. I always do this on Dad's day. Jake's really interested in plants. So much so that he asked about 1,000 rapid-fire questions, made up songs about the plants, and generally kept me hopping to keep up with his litany. At one point I lifted a Japanese maple that I'd upgraded to a bigger pot last season. "Boy, these roots are really tight," I commented. "Tight as a drama queen's schedule!" Jake commented. He's like that. You never know what he's going to say, but it's always original, and often a head-scratcher. Scary smart, that boy. All he wants for his sixth birthday is his own bonsai tree. I have one waiting.
Dad always had neighborhood kids around him, watching him work. Unlike a lot of the dads in our neighborhood (OK, unlike any of them), Dad usually had a really messy project spread out in the basement or backyard that just beckoned to kids. Maybe he was restoring an antique corn sheller or cream separator, or maybe he was pouring a cement driveway, or cutting wood with an antique portable sawmill, run by a one-lung gas engine whose measured pops rang out through the neighborhood. He never chased the kids away, always answered their questions. One boy from a couple of blocks over was his constant shadow. He did poorly in school, and Dad figured out that it was because he'd never learned to read. Dad taught him to read and repair small engines. That boy has his own car repair place now, and he probably makes much more than my dad ever did.
No kindness paid a child is ever wasted.
Jake and I cleaned the fishpond, too. It's amazing to me, every April 10, when I vacuum the pond, remove the de-icer and start the fountain up, how that pond just comes alive. American toads, drawn in by the sound of splashing water, always start trilling in it that evening. The kids rediscover the little green mudhole, now transformed by sparkling, singing water. Within a couple of days, the water clears and the fish cavort beneath the fountain. After 13 years, my inbred shubunkin goldfish are almost all chocolate-brown, and most of the colorful ones have warts and tumors from marrying their sisters. The wild type survives. They aren't as pretty, but they survive. I haven't found it in my heart to cull them. I just let them do their thing. It's frustrating, though, because if one of the fish cacks, it's always a pretty one.
Today, Liam dangled his feet in the still-cold pond water, picked a dandelion, and asked if he could blow it across the water. I hesitated, thinking of dandelion fuzz in the clean filter. "But I can give the fish a lot of joy," Liam protested, and I laughed and marveled at my little straw-haired boy. The dandelion fluff floated across the water, and all the fish rose up to nibble at the seeds. Little boy, right as usual.


[Back to Top]