Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Swing Set...

I missed them tonight.

I left work early this evening and picked the boys up from school where they waited with Lisa for the end of Mary's cross country practice. I took the boys with me to get some dinner, leaving the wifemate to wait it out.

We got some fast food and made it home with enough light left for a hearty football game with the neighbor boys. I assumed my usual position of "all time quarterback." A bad knee, sore back and twenty-six years the elder of my nearest competitor had surely earned me that. We finally went inside the house after a few spectacular (and not so spectacular) moments on the field.

The clock had ticked many times, but the girls were still absent.  Luke and Thomas finished up some homework and dispersed throughout the house. But, something called me again to the backyard on this late October evening, and so, I went. Perhaps it was the waning warmth of days that will quickly turn to something altogether different. Or maybe it was a heart that beat for moments long since passed away.

Either way, I started out.

I dabbled a little in the residue of a garden beyond its prime.  I kicked clods of dirt and stems that once held brilliant blooms and loosed them from their withering roots below.  I looked for signs of tomatoes, lately clinging to life.

I saw none.

But, I felt another beckoning back there in the stillness of the sun's softening brilliance.   As I noticed the swing set, I suddenly recalled late fall evenings some ten years earlier. I thought back to my daughter's more youthful years. I remembered climbing up on top of the landing just above her slide with a warm blanket and wrapping ourselves up together. She would sit atop my folded legs and lean her back against my chest. Sometimes her mom would make hot chocolate, and we would sit quietly looking to the heavens for signs of shooting stars.  Mostly we saw airplanes in the night.

They fascinated her. And my little girl, well, she fascinated me.

Something was calling me again to that ledge, and so I climbed the weathered stairs. Ten years of the elements had taken its toll on the splintering wood.  My legs didn't bend as gracefully either.

And so, I lay there in the quiet, occasionally interrupted by the wind's jostling of yellow oak leaves soon destined for their fluttering descent earthward. A white strip of cloud hung above me and quickly disappeared behind the darkening canopy of the night sky. I saw a lone star in my field of vision and pictured the eye of God spying down.

I wondered if He would be pleased with what he witnessed. 

And then, the first plane entered into the background-its red and white lights blinking rhythmically against the black. I thought of her. I thought of our nights together when she was a little girl and the history on that ledge.

I got up abruptly and descended the stairs, now keenly aware of the evening's chill.

A lone tear fell from my left eye-

and I gently wiped it away... 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

In the Garden...

It’s a fine patch of tomatoes.

The black-eyed peas and green beans aren’t bad either. The cantaloupe is sweet and juicy. Overall, it’s the best harvest I’ve seen in recent memory.

My father retired at the beginning of the year and needed a summer project to sink his teeth into. I propositioned him. My wife wanted a bigger garden this year, not content in settling for the small collection of peppers and tomatoes we had planted for several years in the small beds around our house.

I had an idea. Break a big piece of ground and let my father, who was restricted by space at his own home, plant all he wanted in half and let my wife plant the other. I simply asked to glean from the excess of his labor. I knew when the dust settled, they would both work together and I would be the most satiated recipient of fresh produce. I knew he couldn’t resist.

I was right.

It’s a funny thing, though. I remember seeing him some thirty years ago working the ground, hoeing the weeds, protecting his precious commodities throughout the summer.

Things are a bit different now. His hair has surrendered the final vestiges of their darker hues. Currently, the cracks around his brow and mouth are deeper and more apparent. He moves a little slower and bends more cautiously while collecting the spoils. He’s mellowed some. His once gruff and curt personality has evolved into a more relaxed, reflective poignancy. He recalls more often now fond memories of his past and avoids those of a more troubling nature.

Time has changed him, but then again, I suppose time changes us all.

This arrangement is nothing new for him. He was raised by an Alabama sharecropper just above the cotton field they cultivated. An old general store owned by cousins stood next door within sight of the high school he attended. He wore no shoes in the hot, southern summers. Sometimes, depending upon the crops, that included spring and fall as well.

The few remaining black and white polaroids of his distant youth reflect a nearly haunting image of innocence, hope, and bib overalls. His own father was an often brutal man whose example in raising children was poor at best. It was the unselfish love only a mother could give that sustained him. Both of them have gone on to whatever rewards might have awaited.

A fate we will all confront sooner or later.

Now, he picks beans and sweats a little. Mother says the only reason he spends so much time in the garden is so he can enjoy a few more precious moments with the grandchildren he loves. Maybe she’s right. Maybe the bell that tolls for us all is a little louder for some, especially for those who’ve survived a heart attack or two.

image courtesy of photobucket.com

Maybe it’s just a wise man that learns enough from his past to avoid repeating it.

Either way, it's still a fine patch of tomatoes...