I tell anyone who asks that my love of gardening came directly from my father. What I don’t reveal is that he taught me about a greater kind of love, as well.
Father’s flower garden was beautiful—and perfect. Everything was neat and in its place—even the white picket fence. He’d painstakingly made the fence out of leftover scraps of wood from the factory where he worked, carefully measuring and nailing each picket until the fence reached around the entire 150-foot enclosure. Each spring I would stir the mixture of whitewash in a large bucket and help my father paint the fence. (Real paint was a luxury we could not afford.)
Many paths separated the sections of my father’s garden. One might hold daisies and phlox, and another, colorful foxgloves and daylilies. On and on it went, creating a wonderful collage of color.
My mother didn’t garden herself, but she would often wander up and down the paths, gazing at the array of beautiful flowers. One day she must have wanted to spruce up our plain little house, because she picked a large bouquet—I’d never seen her do that before. And, indeed, the vase of reds, yellows, and pinks on the kitchen table brightened up our whole home.
That night when Father walked into the kitchen after work, he took one glance at the bouquet and exploded. “Are those my flowers?” he demanded.
“Your flowers!” Mother answered. “I always thought it was our garden. Now you say they’re your flowers?”
“You’re darn tootin’ they’re my flowers,” Father yelled at her. “I planted ’em, weeded ’em, and watered ’em. You can look at ’em, but you aren’t supposed to pick ’em.”
“Well, excuse me!” Mother said, tears rolling down her face. “You just keep your precious flowers. I’ll never go into your garden again!” She ran into the bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
I tried to stay invisible throughout this tirade. I couldn’t understand. Why was Father so angry over a silly bouquet? Making Mother cry—she’d meant no harm. But I kept silent. He stood looking at the closed door for a while then headed out the back door, probably to assess the damage to his garden. I slipped out the front door, figuring that it was a good time to visit my friend’s house. There, hopefully, the atmosphere would be a bit more sane.
A little over an hour later, I came back. I dreaded going into the house, deciding I would head straight up to my room. But when I opened the door, I got the surprise of my life. My mother was sitting on the couch, smiling—and my father was next to her with his arm around her. When I looked round the room, it was easy to see why she was beaming. Every flat surface in the whole house had a jar of freshly cut flowers. I remember thinking that Father’s garden must be pretty bare.
My father had finally realized that flowers may be grown in a garden, but they—and love—should never be imprisoned behind a white picket fence. ❖