When I was a young girl, I watched my father systematically select the perfect home site for the new construction that would become our primary dwelling.
Following the land-clearing, my father meticulously selected centipede grass for the open area of our lawn, which in mowing terms amounted to about three acres. I always knew it to be “blue centipede,” according to him. He instilled in me an appreciation for his calculated choice—no stickers equaled bare-footed softball.
In addition to a discerning flair for the outdoor landscape, Dad had a determination that I would not only learn the value of hard work, but also possess the ability to do yard work. As a self-proclaimed princess, I rather enjoyed my summer time indoors, keeping up with Days of Our Lives. High on my agenda might have been something like figuring out the identity of the Salem Strangler. But high on Dad’s list might have been my education in tending to garlic, potatoes, strawberries and the like.
Though we had plenty of help that would have been the way of life for an agricultural region, my father had me working right alongside any hired hands, and jokingly referred to young ladies who would not learn outdoor work as Queen Astorbutts, and becoming this type of lady would not be acceptable. I secretly think this may have had something to do with his unresolved feelings of a younger sister who drank coffee from fine china and remained indoors while he was required to learn outdoor work. I, on the other hand, became proficient at both.
I’m just gonna go ahead and unashamedly tell you that it would not have been uncommon in the remote countryside of my youth for us to mow with the John Deere in a pre-Hawaiian Tropic bikini era. That’s what baby oil was for.
Farmer’s tans became status symbols compliments of K-Swiss tennis shoes and bobby socks. That I was a girl with brown legs and white feet didn’t bother anyone in those days when nobody had ever heard of salon pedicures. Pumice stones, Epsom salt, and a hot bath was all anyone ever needed.
My father had requirements of me where the lawn was concerned. He liked the spray of grass clippings to be on the outside of the mowing area. He liked seeing the lines it made in the yard. I did as he asked, but personally just liked to end the day by working on my bed of zinnias.
In my early married years, my husband had different expectations of me than my father did where the lawn was concerned. Right or wrong, he required me to keep the spray of grass on the inside of the moving area, leaving no lines behind in the yard.
I didn’t mind untraining my father’s instruction, but slowly and surely I also became more of the landscape girl. I planted trees and Asian jasmine my father sent from home. I planted Bradford pears and Japanese maples, crepe myrtles, and ginkgos. My family sent me perennials like day lilies, echinacea, lazy Susans, phlox, portulaca, and four o’clocks. I called home to consult with my Granny frequently, mainly about the flowers but sometimes about best practices in the kitchen for baking her signature pecan pie. Vases of phlox frequented our nightstands, for the scent reminded me of home in the country where we also had a common practice of creating sachets for our pillowcases at night.
Recently, I made a new friend who invited me over for a visit. When I pulled up into the driveway, I realized that the home was immediately next door to the garden district home where I had once planted all of those young trees in my twenties as a young bride. My Dad’s Asian jasmine ground cover was everywhere, and the trees towered over the roofline of the house.
I was amazed that my early mornings and evenings of labor all those years ago had resulted in something so majestic. Though I had been away for a quarter of a century, there was never a sunrise or sunset that the Master Gardener had not watched those roots take hold. I thanked God for my earthly father, but mostly that He never takes His watchful eye off of us either. I still bear the imprint of that country upbringing, evidenced by my daily habit of coffee in fine china cups. But it was the witness of those mature trees that made me smile at the legacy of my Dad’s humor, just knowing that he would have been proud that I never, and I mean never, became a Queen Astorbutt.
Happy Father’s Day, Dear Reader, from my desk to yours.