Daddy’s birthday was always so easy to remember–the last day of May.
A sadness hung around the edge of today. I did a pretty fair job of keeping it at bay, but it knocked some tears out of me about 4:30 this afternoon. I was cleaning out files from my computer at work and I came across this picture. A reader named A.L. sent me this poem a few weeks ago. She said it had helped her and she thought I might want to read it too. I did. Thank you.
“So when all that’s left of me is love, give me away.” That’s where we are today, on what would have been Daddy’s 74th birthday. Looking for a way to give away this love that I can’t give to him anymore.
After work, I had to go to Kroger. In the checkout line, a voice behind me whispered, “Hey, purdy!”
I love Hank because he always always always says, “Hey, purdy!” when we bump into each other at the hospital or around town. Not hello pretty lady or hi beautiful. “Hey Purdy.” This is the language of my people. He’s a sweet soul.
Hank’s buggy was loaded down with big bags of Cat Chow. In addition to being a kind-hearted hospice nurse, he’s a one-man cat rescue operation. He feeds a couple of colonies of feral cats (and catches them for spaying) and finds homes for as many kittens as possible.
I pulled out my wallet and handed him a couple of twenties. “My daddy loved kittens, so here’s something for the fund. If you see any yella ones, feed them a little extra for his birthday.” He did so love a yella cat.
At his memorial service, Brett told a story from right after Daddy and Big Gay got married. Daddy was still trying his best to make friends with his new step-daughter, so he asked Brett to ride along with him on a call to a farm. After the doctoring was done and they were about to leave, Daddy told Brett that there was a litter of kittens in the barn. “Go pick one out and you can bring it home.” So Brett did, even though they both knew her mama was not going to be pleased. Later that night, she heard Big Gay complaining about the kitten (because their house was already busting with animals, naturally). In a commiserating tone, Daddy straight up lied to his bride: “Gaaaay…What was I supposed to do? Brett BEGGED me for that kitten!” That’s how much he loved kittens.
I’ve put in four tomato plants this year and they make me happy and sad all at the same time. I wasn’t going to put any in, but our neighbor, Coach Cavin, had some plants left over from the ag class that he teaches at the high school.
Those plants have shot straight up over the last couple of weeks. I can’t look at a tomato plant without thinking of Daddy. He loved starting plants from seed in the greenhouse. Instead of flat orderly seeding trays, he started his plants in white styrofoam coffee cups so he could write the variety on each container. By the time Easter rolled around, each of us left the house with a flat of tomato plants to grow as best we could. A couple of years ago, he started something like 200 plants!
I think of the summer that Vivi toddled over to the corner of the kitchen where he kept his harvest. Before anyone noticed, she had taken one bite out of every tomato in a half-bushel basket. There was the bumper crop summer when he made shelf after shelf of salsa. He and Big Gay lived most of the summer on tomato sandwiches with great gobs of mayo.
Daddy came from a long line of farmers. He once said that most people today were so out of touch with how food really gets to their tables, that if an apocalypse happened and we had to rebuild the food supply, most people would start by building a grocery store.
Tonight, I got another chance to give love away in his memory. In addition to the West Broad Farmer’s Market (my new favorite weekend destination!), the Athens Land Trust runs a program called Young Urban Farmers. In conjunction with our county high schools, YUF gives students a chance to earn and learn. “Throughout the program year, the students develop business plans, create sustainable agriculture-based products and sell them at the West Broad Farmers Market.” Last weekend, I bought a beautifully constructed cedar bluebird house and a tie-dyed shirt colored with blueberries from students in the program.
Students who complete all of their assigned work in the farming program are paid $7.50/hr. The Athens Land Trust is raising funds right now to keep the program going. I made a donation of $74 in memory of the greatest tomato fan who ever lived. These kids will know that the food system does not begin at Kroger!
That’s how I got through today. Giving away all that’s left of my father–love.