I didn’t write a tribute piece on Father’s Day, because I wanted to stay focused on my husband rather than on my dad, who passed away in 2006. But last evening, it was all I could do to stop thinking about him as I dropped ears of corn into a stock pot of boiling water….as weird as that sounds.
When I was a little girl, Saturdays belonged to us. Perhaps it was his way of spending time with me after a long week at the office, or perhaps it was his way of giving my mother a much deserved break — but either way — it was our standing date. We’d leave the house around 7:30 a.m. and browse Kanawha City yard sales, looking for things we liked but certainly did not need. An hour or so later, we’d drive to Farmer’s Market, the one that sprawled for what seemed to be a mile or more under the interstate. I would follow behind him as he walked from stand to stand, checking out the latest crops, smelling cantelopes and testing the ripeness of a peach. I can see him in my mind’s eye wearing his traditional red golf shirt with a chest pocket holding a pack of Marlboros, navy slacks (that’s what he called them!), and wing-tipped shoes (always). When he had made his choices, brown paper bags shook open and into them fell piles of half-runners. He’d hand me a box of tomatoes with metal handles, warning me not to poke them as I had been found guilty of doing before. White corn (never yellow) was stacked in plastic bags, their husks pulled back just enough to confirm the Silver Queen. Cucumbers filled another bag, their prickly skins leaving a bumpy rash on my hands and arms.
Around noon, we’d make our way to Kroger for the remaining ingredients that were required for whatever recipe he discovered watching Crockett’s Victory Garden, a show that aired on public television for half of my childhood. Finally, we’d pull into the driveway and the rest of the day was spent listening to the clanging of pots and pans and the occasional sneeze, a sign that he had overdone it with the black pepper.
Toward the end of summer (which certainly wasn’t August 19th), I was allowed to stay up late watching TV while my mom and dad canned all of those fruits and vegetables they had grown, or overgrown by neighbors. Even with the roar of an air conditioning unit sandwiched in the dining room window, the house was sweltering hot, yet somehow more comfortable than any other time of the year. From the swivel chair in the living room, I could see directly into the kitchen, where both of them chatted about things I couldn’t hear. Newspapers covered the tabletop, and they sat across from each other stringing beans and pulling off darkened ends, never looking up, and never breaking speed. They canned until midnight or later, or until my dad carried me to my room and put me in bed wearing the day’s clothes and dirty feet.
I’m sure it wasn’t easier back then, but as a child, life felt safe. My dad would stroll through his minature garden and pull a carrot out of the ground, wipe the soil on those same slacks, and hand it to me — top and all. “Tell me if it’s a sweet one,” he’d say, and I would report that it was good.
Today, I live in Fort Hill on a ridge that is anything but conducive to gardening. But I started a container garden of Better Boy tomatoes, cucumbers and of course, baby carrots, which my own daughters have enjoyed planting and watching grow. I can’t recreate the Noyes Avenue backyard, or reopen the old Farmer’s Market, nor can I bring back the late nights of canning bread and butter pickles and strawberry jam. But, I can remember all of it as if it were yesterday.
How sweet it is.