My dad lost his battle with cancer on this day 17 years ago. I was nearly 17 at the time. Because I only had my dad through my teenage years, I never experienced the natural cycle of the parent/child relationship with him. I didn’t get to have conversations with him about how I had made my own decisions and then he could say how he would always be proud of me. I never got to laugh with him in my thirties about stupid stuff I said when I was in college – when I knew everything. He didn’t get to hear about my parenting scares, like my youngest boy at the age of two steal a dining chair and a step stool in order to reach the bag of marshmallows high in the pantry (He would have cracked up at that one). In other words, Dad never saw me all grown up, which is a shame.
You see, my dad more than anything liked to grow things. He worked with cattle most of his life, and after college he wanted to run a feed lot or his own cattle business, but that never worked out. Instead, he started selling farm equipment. His job was to help farmers produce the highest yield from their crops. Eventually, after a raw deal through his corporation, he set off on his own to grow his own business – a feed and fertilizer business, once again helping farmers get the best harvest possible.
Dad rented farmland to grow wheat as a side project. Yes, my weirdo dad grew wheat for fun. He also planted trees in his spare time – fruits of every kind imaginable, and he made them thrive in the West Texas barrenness – land only meant for mesquite trees. My dad dug a well, so that he could water and cultivate his trees, despite droughts or rough winds. Some of my clearest childhood memories involve Dad moving water hoses all over our property with the Texas Ranger game blaring from his pickup radio. We had plums, pears, three types of cherries, peaches, apples, a walnut tree, blackberry bushes. We usually had a vegetable garden, too. I lived at a Farmer’s market, essentially and had no idea. I thought everyone could just go in the backyard for a snack.
Dad was always watching growth. He even bought calves to graze in our back pasture, not to make money, just to see them grow up. We had baby lambs, chickens, ducks, a horse, puppies, kittens. While other houses around me housed guns for hunting or rods and reels for fishing, our house was always teeming with life. In his own way, he hated pheasant and deer season, always commenting that he’d rather see the pheasant roosting in the pasture or flying off together, and he’d rather watch deer jump gracefully over barbed wire throughout our country than see one mounted in a living room.
Dad also loved helping people grow – coaching softball teams, mentoring teenage guys needing a summertime job, extra tipping the new wait staff at the local diners. He encouraged his own kids to work hard and use their brains to grow as much as possible (We didn’t always listen).
I guess that’s where I get part of my creative spirit. I have a brown thumb, not retaining anything I learned about plants from my dad. In fact, I once killed a fern, which is just about the hardest plant to kill. My dad wasn’t a big reader or writer, but he knew the power of working on something and watching it flourish. He relished in the growth process. Though I may not ever have a garden or plant a fruit tree (I’m thinking about doing it this spring with the kids), I hope I always remember the spirit he exuded when I sit down to write something to see if I can make my ideas grow.