An old summer photo of Dad, undoubtedly taken while he was working in the garden.
MY DAD TURNS 91 in three weeks. My sister and I were worried about him this morning, because he hadn’t responded to a three-way text that we keep pretty active – a very 2021 kind of way to stay in touch with your family. When he first got his IPhone, he’d been shy about texting. He never learned to type; the idea of struggling with that little keyboard seemed like too much trouble. But once he realized his busy daughters were apt to communicate more often by text than by phone, little by little he joined in.
But in his typical way (he is a wordsmith and a careful thinker), he has fashioned a style of texting that is uniquely his. Every text is carefully worded, in complete sentences, intentionally witty, and warmly and articulately expressed. Usually with an emoji.
These are not texts he can bang out in rapid fire; response from him takes a little time.
This morning, my sister was in a board meeting, and since I had just finished wrapping up a publication to send to the printer, I offered to call Dad so that I could reassure my sister that everything was fine.
He picked up after a couple rings and I could hear outdoorsy noise in the background. So right away, of course, I realize he’s fine. I’m thinking he’s in the backyard.
But no, he’s over at his friend’s house – one of the nice ladies he plays bridge with – installing a garden he designed for her over the winter. Actually, he wasn’t installing it himself – one of the only concessions he’s made to being almost 91 is that he can’t put as many plants in the ground as when he was almost 90. (Last year during the pandemic he occupied himself by redoing all the planting beds around his house with hundreds of perennials. That’s a lot of digging.) This time, he had help in the form of his friend’s gardener. But having drawn the design and traversed the length of Delaware several times visiting nurseries in search of very particular plant varieties for his friend, he of course had to be there to supervise!
He apologized for not answering the text. But they had started the installation project yesterday and had been at it ‘til late. When he got home, he laid down for a nap and fell asleep. In the morning he had to dash back over there to help finish the project.
One of many birthday celebrations with Dad (in plaid pants), Uncle Rodney (right), Uncle Doug (left), and my grandmother Honey (and her famous chocolate cake).
I let him go back to work after a brief chat about the dates in late July that we’ll be driving down to see him. Three months is about as long as I can stand to go without seeing him these days. And if possible, we like to celebrate our birthdays together. We’ve been double-celebrating for a mighty long time, sometimes with my grandmother’s chocolate cake, sometimes without. (My sister made it last year, complete with 7-minute boiled white icing.)
As I was watering my garden tonight, I kept thinking about Dad and how much he loves plants and gardening and how thoroughly he has passed that love on to me and my sister. It is a true gift. I’m never more content (the opposite of anxious) than when I’m working in the garden.
Last weekend, during a three-way Father’s Day text, I sent along some photos of our progress in the garden, including the newly expanded veg and flower garden with the little retaining wall.
His response was effusively complimentary (with emoji). He also offered support and empathy to my sister for some work she is trudging through.
But my favorite part of the text?
“Thanks to you both for your loving messages. The best thing about Father’s Day is…well, being a father!”
This Dad just gets better and better with age. I can’t wait to see him. I think I’ll bring him a plant for his birthday.
The Dad Chronicles:
Beam Me Up (or Down), Scotty! (April 24, 2021)
My Father the Instagram Star (January 28, 2021)
Cooking with Dad (Vineyard Gazette) (March 22, 2020)
LOOKING FOR RECIPES?