The memory of my dad will never fade as long as his garden, now in my hands, stays green, productive…and weed-free!
This particular weekend marks something like the 69th annual Fulks reunion, a nostalgic affair for many of my generation because as a family we’ve reached that point in life where there are so many empty chairs when we all gather around the table Sunday for lunch.
You see, my dad, Glenn Fulks, was one of 10 children, eight brothers (Charlie, Claude, Jeff, Leland, Dan, Ross, Joe, and Frank), and one sister, my aunt Norma, who’s probably 90 this year, and still going. Not as strong as she once was, but still going.
I remember something about nearly every one of those reunions for some reason, not the least of which was one year early on when I tried to run between throws in a game horseshoes and took one right in the back of the head. There was blood, crying, screaming from some of the younger cousins, and of course…a nasty scar for life.
But I also remember in the later years of Dad’s life him huddling with the remaining brothers to compare vegetable gardens, because you’re really not a Fulks if you don’t plant a garden and either can, freeze, or sell the excess of a bounty crop of beans, corn, tomatoes, or whatever grows well on a particular year.
My Uncle Dan always seemed to have the best green beans, and to this day we harvest and dry the seeds each year to save and keep that particular cultivar of “half-runners” for succeeding years.
My Uncle Ross was the tomato man.
Uncle Leland usually had sweet corn before anyone else – that sort of thing.
And of course there was always a little good-natured arguing over whether someone’s tale about how much and how big was legit. I remember Ross bringing peck baskets full of “Big Boys” just to quiet any doubters. Today, owing to technology, he’s got a smart phone with pictures.
But Dad’s garden was his yearly motivation to live, I’m convinced. For after retiring from teaching it became his obsession, and he grew a lot of stuff the average person wouldn’t even bother planting. He grew beans and corn, of course. But he insisted on growing his own potatoes, even though they were far cheaper and more convenient to buy at the store. He’d plant squash, carrots, beets – turnips and kale in the fall. And for years he had the biggest planting of rhubarb you could imagine. RHUBARB…because he enjoyed Mom’s rhubarb pie. She always froze enough for winter; the rest, Dad shared with neighbors and friends, as he did with the rest of his garden.
It was a ritual between us as I grew up. He’d hand me a hoe on hot summer days and tell me to go cut the weeds out of the sweet corn. I hated that, of course, because it was hot, sweaty work; and I never did it right – never up to the level of his satisfaction. He’d grab the hoe with a harrumph, illustrate how he wanted it done, then hand it back to me. Good memories, eh?
He passed on five years ago, and one of the things that my mom missed most with his absence was…the garden. For a couple of years I tried to plant corn and beans, but being busy with other work endeavors I never kept my garden as clean and weed-free as Dad did his. Believe me, she was want to remind me of that. “Your dad would spin in his grave if he could see that mess,” she’d remind, and frankly, I never really believe it when people say things like that. I believe at this point they have better things on which to dwell than having weeds in the beans back on earth.
But this spring was different. I missed a couple months of my normal work schedule because of a back injury which kept me home during the day, bored, and free to piddle around with another garden. I don’t profess to plant all the stuff that Dad did; just the things I like to eat. And of course, I planted Mom’s green beans saved from Uncle Dan’s half-runner seed.
I planted a couple of rows of strawberrys, just for sentiment, because my adult kids enjoy them. They’ve grown well. And now, at the mid-point of July, the corn is looking good…as Dad’s would have looked. Having the time to devote each day, I’ve walked the rows with his old hoe and kept the weeds at bay. The handle somehow talks to me.
I still have his old Troy-Bilt tiller, running good, and use the same weekly routine that he always did, just to keep the soil loose and accepting of whatever rain water we get. When it hasn’t rained, I irrigate with a hose and sprinkler.
It looks like, and reminds me of Dad’s garden. It’s very green, clean, and weed-free. This is one summer when Mom can’t gripe about Dad spinning in the ground. If you believe in things like that, he’s either smiling…or irritated because I didn’t plant potatoes and summer squash. Nobody’s perfect, after all, he would tell me if he was here. Don’t get cocky!
My back still hurts, and there’ll be no games of volleyball and horse shoes this weekend, reunion activities in which I used to participate. I think I’ll just sit in the shade with Dan, Ross, Leland, and Frank and take my turn telling stories of my garden…er, Dad’s garden as it were. And why not?
This year I’ve got the pictures to prove it.