My parents always had a big garden on a plot of land behind their house. I hated the garden as a kid. It was so big and the rows were so long. During the hot summer months when both my parents would go to work, they’d leave instructions for my brothers and me. There was always garden work on the list. Hoeing, watering, picking, breaking, shucking and silking…I hated it all. It was summer in the south so it was at least 180 degrees and 200% humidity. I didn’t even eat vegetables so for me this seemed like especially cruel and unusual treatment.
A garden this size required a tractor and lots of implements. Those long rows didn't make themselves. Pop would use the harrow on the big tractor to turn over the soil a few times. We'd put the plows on the small Farmall tractor and do our best to drive straight. We had a planter attachment and one that would spread fertilizer. At the end of the season he'd plow it all under again.
When my dad retired, the garden was one of his hobbies. I would stop by to visit and within minutes I’d find myself stepping over the rows helping him pick something. I still didn’t like it.
When my dad passed away, the garden became a visible reminder of his absence. There's no one to drive the tractor any longer so instead of corn, green beans and tomatoes, the old garden now grows weeds tall and strong. My mom has made a much smaller garden closer to the house and she still plants just what she needs there. She tends to it all by hand.
In early summer when the weeds are high in the old garden, mom lets me know it’s time to bush hog. The weeds quickly retake the acreage and keep it until late November when I return again to cut them back. On these visits, I crank up my dad’s John Deere 2240 tractor and I retrace his tracks around the garden. It’s a slow, sacred process and I can only think of him while I smell the cut weeds and diesel exhaust. I like to think that he’d be happy to see me out there on his tractor tending to the garden. But the truth is, he’s probably laughing his butt off watching me try to remember how to start it up and watching me try to figure out which lever engages the bush hog. He's probably making fun of my bright green running shoes and hooded sweatshirt too.
It makes me smile to think about what he’d say. He had such a way with words.