He’s been gone six years now, but every February 1st I remember my dad because of one of his most enjoyable winter habits. Read on as I share.
Every February 1st I think of my dad, Glenn Fulks, who passed away six years ago after a long bout with a form of Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
For you see, February 1st was Dad’s birthday (he was born in 1929), and he would have been 88 years old this year if he were still with us.
For those who knew him best, Dad was different about things like birthdays. He didn’t observe them, in fact, and if you’d ask him on his birthday he’s shrug his shoulders and say there were other, more profitable, things to think about and do than celebrate something he had nothing to do with, anyway.
Dad taught school for 26 years – primarily grade school and junior high math (arithmetic) – but when he was at home he had a variety of interests that set him apart from the average educator. He was, for instance, an avid gardener – he liked to grow things – and he was obsessive about taking care of what he planted.
Corn and beans, you see, had to be kept weed-free – and fertilized on a certain day.
Tomatoes had to be staked and tied.
And his fruit trees, the apples, peaches and cherries, had to be pruned and sprayed on a rigid schedule. And if you didn’t, he’d say…well, you’re just asking for trouble.
And so it was, every February (and often on his birthday) if the weather was permitting, Dad would grab his ‘loppers’ (pruning shearers) and head to the orchard to prune the apple and peach trees. He was a fanatic about it – it had to be just so. It had to look a certain way, in case another apple grower would drive along and see his work and think that a novice had been at work. Nope, Dad knew his trees, knew how and why you pruned, and afterwards he’d walk around them for days with a pocket knife making a little cut here and there, just for cosmetics. He wanted it perfect.
Of course, many times his work went for nothing because a late spring freeze would kill the apple and peach blossoms. But that didn’t bother Dad. He’d just shake his head and plan for next year. He had no control over the weather, he’d say, but he pruned, anyway…just in case! Besides, he’d remind me, good things always came to those who were patient.
He taught me in like fashion – all except the patience part. My job, you see, was picking up the cut limbs and wood that he left on the ground – the water sprouts and ‘old fruit wood’, he called them. Nothing yakked him off more than running the lawn mower over a piece of branch come spring. To him that just being careless about doing the job right, or so he told me.
Some of those trees he cared for are still on the property now; and old habits, I admit, are hard to break. At the time he was living I swore under my breath that one day I’d dispense with the work of pruning and spraying fruit trees. But son of a gun…now that they’re mine I find that I enjoy eating them as much as Dad did. And if you’re going to harvest, you have to prune.
So, every February I grab the ‘loppers’ and go out there – to give ’em a ‘haircut’. Actually, any month is OK to prune a fruit tree, but it’s easier when the leaves are off because you can see the exact shape of the tree (another Dad wisdom) when you’re done. You know what the tree will look like when it’s full of summer growth. The idea of pruning, you see, is to let sunlight into the center of the tree for uniform ripening; and to prevent more fruit from setting on than the tree can support. Besides, you want less, and nicer apples, rather than more, smaller apples.
And yesterday was the day. I do it quicker than he used to, but I’m not as obsessive about every little thing, either. And for the purpose of this column I left the cuttings on the ground – to photograph. He would have harrumphed at that idea, but the light was better for pictures today than yesterday.
I thought about him the whole time, how he’d circle the trees and look from every angle to see if he’d missed something. When I’d fuss at him out of impatience he’d always remind that come August, when the fruit was on, that’s when you appreciate a good pruning job. When you can almost taste those Red Delicious apples and Elberta peaches – that’s when you take the most satisfaction from your labor.
I smiled. Because if you believe in things like that I knew that someplace Dad was probably observing every cut and mistake, fuming about the shape of the tree come summer and four extra apples lost that I wouldn’t need, anyway.
But, I’m still out there doing it…in his honor.
Happy birthday, Dad!