I sneak up on my father in the garden to impress him with my amazing Kung-fu ability, careful not to trample the leaves of his tomatoes, or peppers. He is in the cornrow with his wheel barrel of horse manure, straw hat and spade in hand reflecting shadows that move on the ground like an ancient Chinese warrior.
As a stealthy boy of twelve, I delight to feel the sandy soil roll in the crotch of my toes. I attempt to reduce my body to the shape of a tender cornstalk, but to no avail.
He covers me with his hazel eyes. His dark maple face with deep weathered lines looks straight at me. Somehow I don't mind, until the lesson starts. "See this here."
He takes the spade of manure and lets a pile scatter in the wind. It catches my nostrils and stiffens my nose. I look for deep cover, knowing I must skillfully exit this trap. But something tugs at my heart, harder than the smell. His eyes turn glassy. "Son. All things have a purpose." He gently unfolds a circled layer. "Too much it burns, too little, a waste."
His lesson digs deep into my heart.
"This is like gold for a garden!" He stirs the manure with his hand and lets some go between calloused fingers. "Tonight if it rains, the cornstalks will crackle to the sky. It will sound like trees falling!"
I crouch in silent submission to my father the teacher. The day is growing hot, and beads of sweat grow on his forehead, but I feel the shiver of his thoughts rake my spine.
"All is meant for something," he says, pointing a finger to the sky, and spies a sparrow diving for lunch, dancing on soft blades of grass.
My heart is racing! Does he know I killed a bird in the evergreen pine? Does he know I took his 22-rifle? I only wanted to feel the thunder in my arms, and sweet smoke rising to my nose. I did not mean to kill it. I watched the bird, but it did not fall or fly. It died in place, feet stuck to a sapling.
I would wake every morning to look out my window, praying for the wind to come and make it fall to a bed of red needles. It held, hollow as a baby statue for the whole world to see what I had done.
I feel my father's eyes heavy on my shoulders. My heart is racing wild, as I look with eyes wide open. This tiny bird is no longer there! My heart springs in release! With my father at my side, I will pay a silent penance, and learn from his hands, that are as delicate with me, as all that is GREEN.
I sense him sifting my heart, like with a spade, seizing it, but gently shifting my character. My father, the teacher, finds treasure in the fleeting moments of our mingling hearts.
Time has encircled us. I grow hard as a mighty oak, but my father's shadow is shrinking in the garden, with a cane for a spear, and a knot between his shoulders. When I approach after all these years, he must feel me on the soil, because he does not turn in surprise. I see the side of his face, still maple from sun, worn, but the wrinkles have grown deeper, like the trunk of an old tree. "Ah," he says. "So big now. Thought you were a stranger."
His smile gives him away. I'm no surprise, but part of his fertile ground. He has taught me all I know about gardening, not found in a book: like, how to feel the soils texture when it is tilled to perfection, or how to feel heaviness of air, before pregnant clouds burst in glory. He taught me to love the soil, and love its purpose.
Someday my father will loose his color, and turn ashen. I know, one day he will fall to the ground. To look at him as he is, I want to burst in a cloud of tears! I can't do it, because when he smiles the wrinkles fade.
Someday when I spread his ashes on the soil, I will not be shy, telling my son what this means. My father's soul will have risen. So, when I cry, I will tell him this too, is good for the garden.
(Based on a true story)
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