In the Garden of Earthly Torments…

Cartoon of my Dad in the yard.

Growing up, the mere mention of yard work sent frissons of unpleasantness down my vertebrae, and any chance I had to eschew such repetitive work I certainly took.

And yet.

And yet now, as I am much older (How old? Well, back then you could buy 20 candy bars for a dollar, that’s how old) some aspects to it aren’t that bad. I said some, not all.

When I was a lad under 10, we lived in a house that sat in close proximity to dense woods. My parents got around to the the idea of clearing out a huge swath of it to make a bigger yard for all us ragamuffins. (At that point, there were four boys and one girl, the oldest was nine or so. Two more came much later.) That was the beginning of my abhorrence to such a chore.

In those days you didn’t have to worry about deer ticks; just copious amounts of tangled poison oak and ivy, and immense clouds of gargantuan mosquitoes. Christ, did they swarm! I am one of those unfortunate beings who tend to develop tremendous welts after a ‘skeeter’ has feasted on my blood.

Dutifully, our collective tiny hands pulled and teased roots and weeds from the unforgiving earth, and eventually a semblance of a yard was attained. But my parents still had to call in a tree service. And boy, did they love us! Plenty of firewood for them, and I’ve always wondered what kind of bartering went on with that particular transaction. (Given my Dad’s quiet disposition, I’m sure that he must have got a raw deal.) That then, was my first foray into gardening of sorts.

After that, a handful of years later we moved to a village in Massachusetts and, at that time, being a teenager and all, I still did not cotton to yard work. My brothers and I would wait until my Dad was in the yard, kneeling amongst the minions of dandelions, watching as swarms of mosquitoes crowded his sweaty brow, and then we’d time it just right to exit the house and scurry down the vista to the field near the lake. Nothing, though, escaped his eyes.

I must admit, we were terrible in helping ‘Pops’ out with chores around the house. But he loved to do them! He actually enjoyed spending hours on his knees, digging at countless weeds, whistling all the while to some Lena Horne standard, getting bombarded by armies of gnats and mosquitoes, and yet he never complained.

But then, at dinner time, (back then when everyone sat at the table) we’d be sitting there, all of us, and my Dad possessed this amazing presence. He didn’t have to say a goddam word. You just knew that he was…displeased.

Displeased that his own seed, his own gaggle of strapping young sons, failed to join in on such mundane and monotonous labor. He never said a word. You just made damn sure that your elbows were off the table.

I guess what I’m getting at is that ‘gardening’ really isn’t that bad. Recently, a friend of ours inquired as to whether one of us was willing to help her out, to thresh and rake her yards (three different properties) and so I agreed. I had done it a few years ago, and thought nothing of it. I procured a few lawn bags, drove over to her house with a rake, broom and dustpan in tow, and went to work.

Late March does not bode well for raking. Period. But between the gusts of frigid winds, I managed to perform the necessary chores. Nine bags later, the job was complete. And I have to admit, though, at times it was rather peaceful, and calming, to kneel on the ground and pluck errant leaves from hedgerows and rose bushes alike. Just kneeling there, listening to the caw of a distant crow, or a muted bark from some old tied-up dog, feeling the crisp wintry blast of air on my face, it was all rather pleasant.

Mind you, it’s something I wouldn’t want to do on a regular basis, but for those eight-plus hours of ‘mundane’ labor, it felt…good.

I believe my Dad would have been proud.

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2012, All Rights Reserved.

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