When I was little, I used to think my dad raked the maple leaves into a big pile so that we kids could dive into it and play. In those days, I thought the wheelbarrow that accompanied him to the back garden was meant for the rides he gave us back to the house. His flower garden at the side of the house was his special place of refuge—and it was there that his soul brushed mine to forever bond.

Daddy’s garden was full of surprises. Rock paths led to goldfish ponds and little rooms made of evergreens and furnished with stone benches. Birdbaths stood in odd places, and a fountain surrounded by red geraniums and blue lobelia sent water music throughout the garden from an off-center mound in the lawn. As Daddy tended his garden, his gentleness and love radiated to the plants, which responded with luxuriant growth and color. Pulling weeds with him was never tedious, because his love radiated to me as well.

After I grew up and got married, I still spent many Sundays side by side with my dad—pruning, weeding, fertilizing, laughing, basking in the warmth of his unconditional caring. But as the years went by, I did more while he gradually did less.

Daddy’s spirit stayed strong, but the feebleness of his eighties drove him to sell his property and move to a retirement community.

Before the new owner could bulldoze the garden, my dad helped me take samples of everything: the roses, the various perennials, the dahlias, the peonies, and even some of the rocks from the pathways. We took these—along with a bird-bath, the fountain and a stone bench—and put them in my backyard where I made a miniature garden to echo my father’s.

As I watched Daddy walk with his cane through our garden, I knew that every step was precious, every handful of earth he moved a gift, every rose he pruned a blessing.

At the retirement community, I tended my dad as he had tended his flowers. Every day, I had morning coffee with him, and in the afternoon I took him shopping. I organized his medicines and took him to piano concerts. In the spring, I drove him through the suburbs to look at other people’s flower gardens or to my house to hear his own fountain singing with birds.

Two years into his new life, I held his hand as he passed away of pancreatic cancer. I felt his young, strong spirit with me, as if he was worried what his leaving would do. But his death could not break the bond between our souls, and I walked barefoot in the grass to receive comfort from the earth.

Now, years later, I still sense my dad beside me as I walk in my garden—the child of his garden. I can feel his enjoyment at the hummingbirds splashing in the birdbath. His laughter still echoes in my mind as I pull weeds from around the rosebushes. I carry his spirit in my heart, and with each flower that blooms, I know that he is with me.

 

L. S. B.

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