With any luck, my Father’s garden will have a bumper crop this year. Already, it’s produced lettuce, radishes, strawberries, peas, green beans and spinach. The basil, bell peppers, banana peppers, tomatoes, carrots and more are on their way. Almost anytime I call home, unless the sun has already set, my mother wistfully says, “Your Father is in his garden.”
Now, I’ve written a bit about my father’s health before on this blog, here and here, but it brings me much joy that he’s thriving after a challenging year. It also brings me much joy that his garden is thriving as well. Last Summer, while my Dad was in the hospital in Kansas City, I drove down to Independence to spend the night and take care of some business matters for my parents. It was the first time, in a long time, that the house was empty and the quietness broke my heart and even frightened me a little. And my Dad’s garden, at the end of a markedly dry July, was dying. Though a few of his friends had made visits to water and pick the produce, it was failing without the regular attention, one might even say love, of its caretaker. For my dinner, I picked some peppers and tomatoes and cooked a steak I found in the freezer and it should have been a meal for a king, but I felt so sad, so alone eating it. At that point, I honestly did not know what the future held.
My Dad did get better, he did leave the hospital and gradually he has regained his health. And I think that is one of the reasons he has spent so much time in his garden this Spring and Summer, because he is thrilled to have the energy to work so hard. But also, between you and me, I think there is another reason. My father had cancer, in fact, he had jaw cancer. On July 10, 2012, the longest day I’ve ever experienced, he had a 12 hour surgery to remove the tumorous jawbone and replace it with a new jawbone created from a bone graft and titanium. He was hospitalized for five weeks and the rehabilitation process was arduous and lengthy. And while the doctors had hoped my father would be able to eat food again, he has had difficulties swallowing and he currently feeds himself through a tube in his stomach. It’s his daily routine and I know it must depress him sometimes, but I have never, ever heard him utter a self-pitying word. He has made progress, he drinks water and Sierra Mist and coffee and can eat a little ice cream or mashed potatoes. We have a hope that he will eat again, but we do not know when it will happen. It is a regular plea in all of our thoughts and prayers.
Some would say it’s ironic that the man who can not eat is on a mission to grow the most vibrant garden so he can feed everyone in his world. I actually think his fervor is his way of making sense of the situation. If he can’t enjoy his tomatoes, he can derive a little joy from how much you love them. Happy Father’s Day!