Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Greatest Man I Ever Knew

Outside to this four-year-old boy was very fascinating. There is so much unknown space to explore, so much to see and touch. The backyard was a place protected enough to allow him to run without care or concern from his parents. At least he didn’t notice the protective eyes that watched over him as much here. Grass and trees, a swing-set and lots of space to run made for a great place to play.

There was that other space. The garden. The retaining wall bound the garden to a higher plane, one this little boy could not quite reach on his own. That alone enthralled the boy. There, just beyond his reach, was even more dirt, textures and little crawling critters. He wasn’t allowed to be there alone, though. It was not a playground. Well, that is what mom always said.

Today was a special day with new experiences. Perched on the retaining wall much like a carrion bird, the boy watched ready to pounce into action as his father turned the soil preparing the ground for the years first planting. He was “helping”! Helping dad in the garden was a very new activity. Like most young boys time with dad was his favorite time. Whether it was in the garage working on some cabinet or maintaining the car, working in the front yard or watching as dad worked the cement mixer, being where dad was meant fun. Spending time with dad was this boy’s most favorite activity.

An annual ritual that signaled the start of the long California growing season, the man took meticulous care as he augmented the clay soil with horse manure. The action of turning the dirt with a spade to mix the soil and fertilizer into one homogenous bed of nutrients for the vegetable garden took on an almost hypnotic rhythm. The spade sliced through the dirt, lifted, turned. Slice. Lift. Turn. Repeat. Repeating the same actions over and over became a therapeutic and calming event for the man. He was nearly finished with the preparation and it was almost time to plant. Nothing was as pacifying as the time he spent in his garden. Whether it was troubles at the office, difficulties at school, or minor puzzles to be solved in the yard, the garden was a place where his mind to work out the kinks. The child watching today created a new twist to this otherwise solitary task. The man was almost as excited to have him there, as the boy was to be with his father.

Hardly able to contain his excitement, the boy just couldn’t hold still. Of course, the shovel was far too big for him to manage so his time for helping had to wait. Anxiously watching, the peaceful moment dad was feeling was completely lost on him. The boy really liked the sound of the steel spade slicing into the ground. It was a very interesting scraping sound, very different from anything he had heard before. Shuddering once, it was not uncomfortable in any way but he could feel it deep into his bones. Sshhlusshh! Sshhlusshh! The boy felt his excitement build each time dad sliced into the ground. Sshhlusshh! Sshhlusshh!

The love the man felt for the earth was something he wanted to share with his son. There was so much to gain from the effort. In fact, the reward seemed so much greater than the required sweat. Even if gardening didn’t provide that calm he usually found, there was so much more to gain. Very little in this life was as god-intimate. A partnership between man and god provided such wonderful bounty. By simply planting a seed and maintaining a good growing environment, the outcome was almost always secured. So, today was special because he was going to share this love with one of the most important parts of his life, his son.

Setting the spade aside, the man handed a small gardening shovel to his son. It was time to start the planting. The current crop was corn. Spaced just right at the top of the raised rows, the boy would make small holes into which he would drop three or four corn seeds. It was the man’s turn to watch as the boy went through the motions. Drawing the boy close, the man helped the boy make the first hole.

“Not too deep but just enough to keep the birds from eating the grains. Take the shovel and make a small hole here,” he explained to the boy.

The boy’s only utterance, “OK.”

The boy took the little shovel in both hands and stuck it into the ground, pulling about half a cup of dirt out of place, moving it slightly to the side. The man handed the boy a packet of corn seed, motioning for him to open it. Being careful to avoid spilling the seed, the boy tore the envelope open along the top.

“Now, place just three or four kernels into that hole. Then, you just cover them up with the soil.”

Carefully, the boy counted out four kernels and dropped them into the hole, moving the dirt back to cover the seeds. The man and the boy moved over just a foot and repeated the motions. Only fifteen minutes later they had finished planting the first row. The boy beamed with pride, the father just as happy. Working together, the duo moved onto the next mound and continued to finish the planting.

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Today, I'd express gratidute for the greatest man I ever knew. My father. He was the most selfless man that ever walked the face of the earth. Never one to think of his own needs or concern himself with his own comfort, he provided the perfect example of service, love and kindness. I am grateful for the time he spent with me as a child, an adolescent and as an adult. I am grateful for the times he allowed me to help him but more particularly those times it would have been easier to do it alone. There is no way for me to recount all this man taught me. I can say this. No man was a better example. He never taught something he didn't practice in his own life.

I am grateful for my father, the best mentor, the best hero any boy could ever have.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work."
- Thomas A. Edison
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